San Jose has appointed a new head of the police department, Chief Anthony Mata, at a time our city and communities are having a long needed reimagining of what public safety means.
This dialogue is about the safety and wellbeing of Black and brown communities who throughout our history have endured the injustice of systemic racism. It is about the criminalization of poverty in one of the costliest places to live in the nation. And it is about finding non-police solutions to societal problems that can’t be answered with guns and incarceration.
But one of the most pressing and telling areas where we have an opportunity to make tangible and lasting change is removing police from school campuses. In the wake of the George Floyd protests — students, parents and advocates formed a coalition called the San Jose Equity Coalition to take on this urgent call.
Through our work and research we found an even more acute danger that exemplifies the risk we are leaving our youth vulnerable to — police who have killed or shot at community members who are still hired to “police” our kids. There are seven police officers who have an “officer involved shooting” on their records (meaning they used their firearm to wound or kill community members) who serve as School Resource Officers (SROs) on San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) school campuses.
This is a clear violation of our public safety and most importantly our children’s safety; one that has gone unacknowledged and unchecked by our elected leaders.
Concerned community members discovered this information and met with San Jose Unified School District Board president Brian Wheatley on Jan. 13 to make him aware of this fact. SJUSD board members later confirmed that they had no knowledge of these SROs with “officer involved shootings” on their records, even though they are currently negotiating with SJPD for SROs on SJUSD campuses.
The board is now fully aware of these details. In the wake of the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020 and the passage of the SJUSD Black Lives Matter Resolution, initiated by Trustee Jose Magana, the board is still refusing to heed the demands of students, families and teachers to make SJUSD a police free school system and vote to end their contract with SJPD immediately.
The board and SJUSD claim SROs are on campuses to provide “safety and security.” However, when asked if there was a vetting process regarding the assignment of officers to our schools, the board responded there was not. This reflects a lack of security and care for the general wellbeing and safety of students. There is an undeniable responsibility upheld by our board and our city officials to ensure a safe and positive environment for students.
In doing so, at the very least that should have started with the same intentional and thorough background assessments and performance measures we implement for all staff and adults on our school campuses. The board members are deferring to the perspectives of administrators who do not represent or understand the needs of our community. The impact of students facing officers who have shot or killed their family members or neighbors is irreparable and perpetuates the oppressive culture that comes with systemic racism.
Wheatley dismissed concerns by stating there had been no formal complaints filed against said officers. This stance condones police violence and brutality and does not address safety concerns of our students and families. There are more effective ways to support our youth and our community without having to get the police involved. Some of these alternatives include mental health support, counseling services and healing spaces. If the newly-appointed Chief Mata is going to be responsive to the communities who justifiably have concerns of the police — he will support our call.
The concept of reimagining safety at times sounds distant and abstract — but there is tangible work to be done today that can protect our youth. It is critical that our new police chief address these urgent concerns as soon as possible and to hold these officers accountable to the community. We cannot have aggressive, emotionally unstable, dangerous and armed police officers around our students. We cannot have murders on our police force.
Our community has loudly demanded a permanent termination of San Jose School Unified Board contract to the San Jose Police Department. Reimagining public safety with a new police chief will only be effective if taken from a restorative approach. Repairing harm is accountability and reciprocity — especially for the wellbeing of our youth.
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