OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- An advocacy group on Wednesday called for the Oakland school board to eliminate the school district's police department so that more money can be spent on essential school services.
Jessica Black, the Black Organizing Project's organizing director, said keeping the district's police department at a cost of $2.3 million a year at the same time the district is considering making $21 million in budget cuts for other services "is a racial justice issue."
Speaking at a news conference in front of La Escuelita Elementary School, where the school board will discuss the proposed budget cuts at a meeting scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Black said, "We don't want to see cuts to schools, we want to see cuts to the police."
Black said since a statewide "Victims Bill of Rights" measure was passed in the 1980s, policing, punishment and criminalization have invaded every facet of life in the black community, driving black people out of Oakland.
Jackie Byers, the Black Organizing Project's executive director, said, "We have been confronting the school district for almost a decade about its record of disproportionately suspending, expelling, involuntarily transferring and arresting black students into the criminal justice system."
She said black students comprise 26 percent of students in the district but comprise 73 percent of all students who are arrested.
Byers said, "We will not accept any further delays or suppression of debate by the school board in taking up this matter. With painful cuts to their schools and essential services on the chopping block, the students and families of Oakland have the right to see the Board take up this question now, not this summer, not next year."
Desiree Mims, a Black Organizing Project member who is the mother of students who attend Oakland public schools, said the school police department should be eliminated because "the same police who hurt and murder us on our streets are harassing us on school campuses."
Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown said, "We call for the elimination of the school district's police department and the criminalization of our youth."
Brown said, "Budget cuts harm our students" and said the school district should focus on fully funding services for students.
Brown said of the 18 school districts in Alameda County, Oakland's is the only one paying for its own internal school police department.School board members Roseann Torres and Shanthi Gonzales said they both support eliminating the police department and avoiding laying off staff members such as vice principals and counselors.
Gonzales said the proposed budget cuts "are very painful." Staff members for Oakland City Council members Rebecca Kaplan, Nikki Fortunato Bas and Sheng Thao said at the news conference that they also support eliminating the school district's police department.
In a statement that was read aloud at the news conference, Kaplan said funds currently spent on the police department "should be reinvested into restorative justice, mental health and school counselors."
Staff members for Bas and Thao also said they support a measure on the November ballot that would allow youths 16 and 17 years old to vote in school board elections.
Oakland schools spokesman John Sasaki said the school board will discuss budget prioritizations and reductions at its meeting Wednesday evening but won't vote on the budget until a later date.
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