top of page

Students Deserve and the fight to fully defund L.A. school police

Art by Anika Norton

“Defund the school police! Defund the school police!” was the rallying cry that students, teachers, parents, volunteers, and more yelled harmoniously through St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on February 26, 2022, where headliners like Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and various students including Dorsey junior Kyla Payne spoke about the goals and mission of this fight. Students Deserve high school chapters from across the Los Angeles School District, including Eagle Rock Jr./Sr. High School, attended this history-making meeting. The coalition focused on the kick-off of their current button campaign, buttons you might have seen pinned on backpacks and bags throughout ERHS. But besides engaging drawings by student artists, they also tout the message, “Fully defund L.A. school police.” And it’s a message that has been spreading for more than two years now.

Students Deserve, a grassroots organization that upholds the student voice in the Los Unified School District, Black Lives Matter-LA, and Brothers, Sons, Selves, lead this mission to a momentous victory that went into action in February of 2021. According to Students Deserve, 25 million dollars was divested from LASPD forces, and an additional “13 million dollars in funds for support staff for students” will be invested in people like counselors, psychiatric social workers, like Eagle Rock’s Ms. Roman, and the expansion of Ethnic Studies programs. The success also entails a complete ban on any school police from using chemical weapons, like pepper spray, and no cops will be stationed on any high school campus. (Related: ‘LA school police defunded: a victory for Students Deserve’.) But these organizations don’t want to stop there. They now call for fully defunding the Los Angeles school police.

Patrisse Cullors speaking at the February 26 coalition. Image by Isobel McBride

Why Fully Defund L.A. School Police?

“We’re doing this to support Black students in and out of school,” says Mau Trejo, a staff member of Students Deserve on March 10 during the monthly general assembly. Their comment is one of the various reasons why so many people are coming together for this cause. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, “school districts too often rely on police officers to handle minor violations, who then frequently mishandle the situation, resulting in harmful consequences for students and families.” This worrying trend results in the over-criminalization of students and disproportionally so of low-income students of color. School officials are more likely to refer incidents regarding students of color to the police than those involving white students: Native American students are 3.4 times more likely, Black students are 2.7 times more likely, and Hawian/Pacific Islander students are 1.4 times more likely to be referred to the police.

The ACLU of Northern California also states that from 2005 to 2016 alone, 30,000 students were arrested in the San Bernardino Unified School District. These arrests were predominantly the results of minor violations like graffiti and failure to abide by daytime curfews. This type of action directly feeds the school-to-prison pipeline, a topic briefly discussed in the Students Deserve general assembly of March 10, 2022. Unmistakably, arrest negatively impacts a student’s life both in the present and future, not to mention their mental health. A single arrest hinders the ability to secure employment as employers routinely check criminal status. Other studies have proven that incarceration during high school significantly increases a high schooler’s likelihood to drop out. A considerable number of advocates for this movement also state how police in schools create an unhealthy environment for learning. It creates the intention that schools view students as suspects and criminals instead of the learners that they are.

Romy Griego, a ninth-grader at ERHS, is a pivotal member of its Students Deserve chapter and an avid participant in the entire campaign. Her captivating charisma and drive make her the powerful activist she is today. And it was just sixth grade when she fully got involved with the organization as they fought to end random searches. Romy, along with ERHS senior Griffin Joseph, has taken charge of setting up and guiding the Eagle Rock chapter. But as Romy puts it, “Students Deserve is a horizontal leadership organization where there’s not one specific person that’s supposed to be a leader.”

Students Deserve logo. Image by Students Deserve

Currently, LASPD has a 52 million dollar budget. And in many cases, like Eagle Rock Jr. Sr. High School, there aren’t any police stationed on campus (the February 2021 victory made it so that no cops are to be stationed on any high school campus). Money towards an unused cause is pointless. People like Romy are frustrated that there is valuable money going to school police when they’re not even present. “They’re not doing anything,” Romy says, “school police are not stationed at school.” That’s why Students Deserve and their allies push for a sustainable reclamation of that money to fund the students, by the students. The Black Student Achievement Plan is an example of just that. According to Romy, BSAP will transfer this unused money to support “black youth and invest in their futures.” “We want to fully abolish LASPD and get that money back into schools,” Romy elucidates passionately.

Recently Romy was asked to facilitate the aforementioned March 10 general assembly, a meeting where all of the school chapters of Students Deserve talk about the next steps as an organization, what’s coming up, and the next plans of action. In this most recent meeting, they further discussed and reflected upon the button campaign. So far they have passed out more than 25,000 buttons out of the 30,000 they produced over 75 different schools. ERHS alone passed out 500 in just three days.

One of the campaign buttons. Image by Sofia Casias

But this win hasn’t arrived without setbacks. Some students mentioned how they were not allowed to pass out buttons due to the school administrators saying that they have to sign paperwork and get the approval for passing out the items. Despite not being able to cite any school policy or support of this prohibition, students were reprimanded. As a result, reports of this violation of student speech were sent to the A