Activists Successfully End Militarization of LA School Police Department*
By Mike Maharrey
Dedicated activists in Los Angeles forced the end to federal militarization of law enforcement on a hyper-local level, demonstrating the power of a bottom-up approach when confronting federal power.
After 18 months of pressure and activism, the Labor/Community Strategy Center reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles School Police Department to de-militarize school police. As reported by Counter Punch, they agreed to return all military grade weapons procured from the federal 1033 Program, withdraw completely from the program and to apologize for the policy that brought the weapons to LA schools in the first place.
Weapons the LA School Police will return to the feds include a tank, a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP), three grenade launchers and 61 M-16 rifles.
Eric Mann was involved in the activism and wrote the article for Counter Punch.
“The LAUSD and the LASPD are the first government agencies that we know of— a police force of 500 officers and staff— to return all the weapons, withdraw from the program altogether, give a complete inventory of every weapon received and returned, and to issue a public apology a civil rights organization and the Black and Latino students and communities whose lives were threatened by the program. The precedent can be explosive. We have shown that even if by one bullet alone—let alone a tank, 3 grenade launchers, and 61 M-16s— we can reduce the police arsenal of weapons just as they try to increase them and can win the ideological war against the growing police state.”
According to a new report by Open the Books, the feds transferred $2.2 billion worth of military gear to state and local agencies through Federal Program 1033 from 2006 and 2015. Report author Adam Andrzejewski described it as a “federally-sponsored ‘gun show’ that never ends.”
The 1033 program transfers surplus military weapons and equipment to state and local agencies at no cost. The receiving agency then must foot the bill for its upkeep. n the 1980s, the federal government began arming, funding and training local police forces, turning peace officers into soldiers to fight in its unconstitutional “War on Drugs.” The militarization went into hyper-drive after 9/11 when a second front opened up – the “War on Terror.” Programs like 1033 create a powerful lever the federal government can use to control state and local police departments. They want the “toys,” along with the federal dollars that flow into their coffers through grants and various partnerships. All of this incentivizes police departments to do the feds’ bidding and embrace their priorities. The end result is a virtual national police force focused predominantly on enforcing prohibition – not actual crimes like murder, rape and property crimes.
Americans tend to focus on action in Washington D.C. to confront this kind of federal overreach. But the success of activists in LA show how local and state strategies can undermine federal plans. The feds can create all of the programs they want. If state local governments refuse to let their police departments cooperate, the entire scheme grounds to a halt no matter what the politicians in D.C. want.
It was no accident the Strategy Center launched its battle against police militarization by focusing on the LA School Police. They started small, where they already had some clout and where they knew they could have a significant impact on the ground.
We chose to begin the campaign by focusing on the School police because that was where we were doing most of our organizing and the issue of tanks in the schools would generate, we hoped, the greatest outrage that we could then bring to bear on the LAPD and President Obama.
Going to Congress to complain about school cops M-16s would have accomplished nothing. Instead, they localized and won a major victory. Now they can build on that and move forward, expanding the movement. They are already talking about “what’s next.”
“Victories are so hard to win against the state. It was exciting to hear a student say, ‘This is my first campaign and I can’t believe I have won such a big victory’ while others, the young veterans, are saying, You’ll see, there will be others ahead.’”