Oakland Students Rally — Fight Police Violence; Cops Out of the Schools; Money for Education
by Jack Gerson *
Hundreds of students from high schools across Oakland walked out of class Monday to rally at Fruitvale BART Station, joined by community supporters as well as teachers and other school workers, as the wave of protest triggered by grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York refusing to indict the cops who killed Michael Brown, Jr. and Eric Garner continues to build:
• Across the bay, also on Monday afternoon, the Black Student Union at San Francisco’s Mission High School organized a citywide assembly addressed by Michael Brown, Sr. and Cephus Johnson (uncle of Oscar Grant, the unarmed young black man murdered six years ago at Fruitvale Station by BART cop Johannes Mehserle).
• Two days later, on Wednesday morning, dozens of Oakland students walked out of class again to hold a spirited rally in front of OUSD headquarters. (See video at ).
• A week earlier, the local school board in San Leandro (which borders Oakland), yielded to organized opposition from students, schoolworkers, and community and rejected a proposal to pay for more cops in the schools by diverting $1 million from funding counselors and other key educational programs.
Speakers at the mass student rally at Fruitvale BART emphasized that they were fighting conditions they themselves face every day. “We’re all fighting against police brutality, not only for Michael Brown, but for myself too,” said student Francisco Martinez. “School should be a safe space where we can learn and not be brutalized by security.” Speakers called for the immediate dismissal of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) cop Barhin Bhatt, who in 2011 shot and killed Raheim Brown, an unarmed young black man, at Skyline High School. Students also chanted “Cops Out of the Schools,” demanding that OUSD school board disband its police force, scrap the armored vehicles they’ve received from the U.S. military, and redirect the $6 million / year they've been spending on school cops to what's really needed, like smaller class size, more counselors, more and better resources.
Even before the grand juries’ (really, secret tribunals) refusal to indict — legalistically, sanctimoniously, hypocritically — made it clearer than ever that it’s open season on black men, Oakland has been a center of resistance to the brutality, power, and growing militarization of the police. The movements for justice for Oscar Grant and for Alan Blueford (18-year-old high school student murdered by a “regular” Oakland cop in 2012) have gotten national attention.
Still, it’s not surprising that students at Fruitvale Station focused on Raheim Brown’s murder. It remains a live issue to the Oakland school community because (a) Brown’s killer, Barhin Bhatt, is still an armed, confrontational, and very visible Oakland school cop, and even more so because (b) OUSD paid $550,000 to silence Jonathan Bellusa, the other school cop involved in the murder, after he initially testified in court that high level Oakland school administrators covered up the murder and threatened him with jail and economic ruin if he refused to change his testimony on how Bhatt shot and killed Brown. Bellusa accused chief legal counsel Jacqueline Minor, former schools superintendent Tony Smith, and former OUSD police chief Pete Serna of orchestrating the cover-up. (See ).
Unfortunately, Bhatt is not a one-off. There are too many other cops like Bhatt — trained killers with itchy trigger fingers. We know they’re out on the streets, acting like an occupying army. Get them out of the schools. Fire Bhatt. Disband the OUSD police. Cops out of the schools.
Studies have shown what anyone with common sense already knew: putting cops in the schools turns ordinary student behavior incidents into punishable crimes, treating rebellious young people as criminals. This hurts students of color from low-income families the most, but all students suffer when schools thus become mass dispatch centers for the school to prison pipeline.
Students need smaller class size, better resources, more counselors and nurses. They don’t need more cops — or any cops — in the schools. This is especially true in Oakland, which for more than 10 years has been closing schools, shutting down school libraries, eliminating academic and vocational programs, cutting counselors, clericals, custodians, food service workers, and nurses; paying teachers more than $10,000 / year less than the average for other school districts in the county and the state; etc. — and justifying it by claiming they just don’t have the money. But money has been no object when it comes to funding the school police. The $6 million / year school police budget would have been enough to reopen all the schools closed over the past three years AND to hire more counselors and / or reduce class size and caseload. The school board’s priorities are upside down — like those of the billionaires who run this country and the politicians who administer it for them. Turn them right side up:
• Fund schools, classrooms, and students — no money for cops.
• Cops out of the schools: disband the school cops and prosecute killer cops and those who cover up their murders.
• Fire Oakland school cop Barhin Bhatt. Remove chief legal counsel Jacqueline Minor. Initiate criminal proceedings against Bhatt for murder and against Minor for covering up the murder.
* Jack Gerson is a retired Oakland high school teacher
* Jack Gerson is a retired Oakland high school teacher