NYC Students Surprise City Council Budget Meeting With Peaceful Protest Against School Policing

Photo: shutterstock.com / Felix Lipov
empty room where the NYC city council usually meets, filled with empty chairs and empty dais

At a city council meeting in New York City on Tuesday, March 23rd, where the city budget was meant to be the main focus, the Education Committee and large group of students took over. They had something to say.

The topic? School police.

And who better to address the effects of school policing than the students themselves?

More than twenty kids, ages high school and younger, were on the Zoom call when it opened for public testimony. Each one told a story about how school police had negatively impacted their experience at school, or endangered their wellbeing. 

Then, most students recited what seemed to be coordinated phrases that let everyone in attendance know that they’d be using the rest of their allotted time to sit in silence to respect so many whose voices have been silenced by the city. 

The students' quotes in the tweets below prove just how powerful these children's voices were.

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Each student was allotted two minutes for public commentary. Each student spent most of their two minutes sitting in complete silence while city council members looked on. Occasionally, they appeared somewhat irked by having their agenda hijacked. 

The students attended as part of a coordinated effort led by a coalition of youth organizations to fight back against what they see as a growing problem of policing in schools. 

For background, Resolution 1584 was on the docket, which provided $450 million in funding for school policing.

— Dignity in Schools Campaign NY (@DSC_NY) March 25, 2021

Parents, teachers, students, and organizations composed of all three were adamantly opposed to the proposal, which came straight from the mayor’s office, to add these funds to the budget.

Meanwhile, only $30 million was allocated to the “social, emotional, and behavioral needs” of students. 

For this group and other nonprofits, this is completely unacceptable.

“As the New York City Council continues to deliberate over the budget,” they stated in a press release, “we call on decision makers to significantly divest funding from racist structures that harm young people, and reinvest in systems of care and support.”

The city sees things differently. The resolution itself was called “The New York City Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan,” and was adopted in response to NY Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 203, which directed every local government in the state to “reform and reinvent their police force.” 

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Mayor DeBlasio’s plan involved several feedback and listening sessions in a rolling release that spanned several dates. In all, there were more than 85 meetings and town halls. 

The resolution states:

“To break the school to prison pipeline, the City will prioritize the health and wellbeing of youth while minimizing potential exposure to trauma in City schools through the investment in human resources and trauma-informed practices, moving school safety agents from the NYPD to the Department of Education and retraining them, and revising policies that govern school safety.” 

From the perspective of the mayor’s office, the goals are to decriminalize poverty and shut down the “school to prison pipeline,” and heal the trauma of past misdeeds. Ultimately, resolution passed. 

But not everyone is buying the city’s talking points. 

“We believe in New York City schools and demand they receive the funding necessary to build systems and practices of safety,” the Dignity in Schools Campaign wrote, “where Black and Brown community members have access to well-paid, school-based employment that is not policing.

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The New York chapter of the ACLU reports that in the school year spanning 2011-12, 882 students were arrested in schools.

95% of the students arrested in schools were Black or hispanic. 

At the same time this resolution was passed, the council also passed efforts to force NYPD officers to live in the city and ended qualified immunity. This is part of a larger effort by activists to reform policing

The struggle continues, with both sides working to meet somewhere that all parties find acceptable. For now, though, the city is on the receiving end of a great deal of negative social media coverage about their latest effort. 

With more officers deployed in schools due to constant shootings and for general safety, this is not an issue that’s going to be solved anytime soon. And yet the public's trust in police is eroding.

(If you're wondering about the NYC city council's role in education, check out the video below.)

The students on the City Council Zoom meeting should be applauded for their civic engagement and the activism they demonstrated on the 23rd, even though their efforts did not have the desired effect.

The resolution was passed.

Hopefully, they remain empowered and emboldened despite that fact, and continue to wedge themselves into public policy for years to come. 

Kevin Lankes, MFA, is an editor and author. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.

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