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Minneapolis Teachers Union, Cops Battle Over Student Recruitment

Above Photo: Combines Minneapolis teacher strike image by Akičita Šuŋka-Wakaŋ Ska and MPD recruiting image posted to the department’s social media feeds. Niko Georgiades / Unicorn Riot.

A Minneapolis Public Schools teacher speaks about the Minneapolis Police Department’s newly created recruitment plan targeting school children.

Minneapolis, Minnesota – A Minneapolis Public Schools teacher talked to Unicorn Riot about the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) newly created PEACE Recruitment Program and the teachers union’s recent decision to oppose it.

Minneapolis North High School Special Education teacher and union board member at-large Jessica Garraway brought the idea to the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT59) to oppose the MPD’s PEACE Recruitment Plan targeting high school students. She helped draft a resolution and bring it to the body for a vote.

Garraway, a police abolitionist, participated in the Lake Street protests outside of the Third Precinct in the days following George Floyd’s murder by officer Derek Chauvin. She told Unicorn Riot that cops around the country are in a “crisis of legitimacy, especially in Minneapolis,” where she notes that the department is down a third in numbers with struggling retention rates since Floyd’s murder.

MinnPost recently reported that there were 602 sworn officers, down from 900 in May 2020. The activist educator cites that as an “achievement won by the movement” following Floyd’s murder.

On Dec. 16, 2022, MFT59 passed Garraway’s resolution opposing the MPD’s high school student recruitment program. This comes more than two years after the Minneapolis School Board voted to end its contract with MPD and take school resource officers (SROs) out of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) following the murder of Floyd by former MPD officer Chauvin.

The following is an excerpt from the press release by MFT59:

The Minneapolis Police Department, at the direction of the Community Safety Work Group appointed by Mayor Frey, has put forward a program to help diversify the force. The department’s PEACE Recruitment Plan is a paid internship for Minneapolis high school students to learn about and work with the MPD in efforts to serve as a professional pathway into law enforcement careers for students of color.

According to the City of Minneapolis’ website:

The 21 member Community Safety Work Group chaired by civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong released their report in June 2022. The work group recommended increasing sworn officers to 888 by “building a pipeline of future candidates who live in the city of Minneapolis.” One primary strategy to accomplish this is by partnering police with MPS to “create a K-12 public safety career pathway program,” and provide support for “career fairs, field trips, and mentorship opportunities, to expose children to careers in public safety.”

Kaytie Kamphoff, an English teacher at Patrick Henry High School and co-author of the resolution opposing the recruitment program, noted the irony of the City of Minneapolis investing in a police pathway program for Black and Brown students before adequately funding its teacher pathway program.

“A better ‘community pipeline’ [would] be…fully funding teacher pathway programs in community high schools with large populations of Black, Latinx, Hmong, Somali and Indigenous students,” Kamphoff told the Southside Pride newspaper.

Teachers say MPD are too dangerous to work with children and students have repeatedly demanded that police not be employed inside schools. In April 2022 the Minnesota Department of Human Rights released a scathing report establishing “A pattern or practice of discrimination” by Minneapolis police against Black residents. The report laid out sweeping human rights violations by MPD, including murder, non-lethal brutality, harassment, spying, retaliation, and widespread use of racial slurs.

The report confirmed that it wasn’t a few “bad apples.”

Kamphoff, also an abolitionist, takes exception to officials overlooking MPD’s history of violence while putting forward the recruitment program for high school students. “It is wild that Mayor Frey is asking our Black and Brown youth to engage and then enter a system that has systematically harmed their bodies, minds, and souls.”

Garraway said it doesn’t make sense that an organization with such a violent track record is allowed to work with vulnerable populations such as kids, noting that officers who “maimed and murdered” people are still on the force today. “MPD made international news for its human rights violations against Black residents,” she said, “and now we’re turning our kids over to them…” 

North Minneapolis filmmaker and abolitionist D.A. Bullock tweeted his outrage about the program, claiming that nothing has changed with the department since Floyd’s murder.

In June 2020 the Saint Paul School Board followed the lead of Minneapolis and passed a similar resolution ending its contract with the Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD), removing seven SROs from Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS).

However, the murder of Saint Paul Harding High School student Devin Scott who was recently stabbed to death at school has SPPS officials reevaluating their partnership with police. According to MPR News, after Scott’s killing, Superintendent Joe Gothard said that he wants “to see if we can redefine what a formal partnership looks like…”

Saint Paul School Board Commissioner Chauntyll Allen fired back on Facebook, “An SRO with a new name is still a killer cop,” citing the recent killing of Yia Xiong in his home by Saint Paul police only weeks ago. Read Unicorn Riot’s coverage of Xiong’s killing here.

Garraway believes it is a convenient time for cops to reclaim their presence and regain power in public schools. She warns, “When violence takes place in our schools, it is a prime opportunity for police to get back in our buildings and re-establish their legitimacy… at a moment when it’s at an all time low.” 

Conservatives didn’t waste time attacking teachers. The local “lightning rod” police union responded to MFT, not withholding its animosity for educators. As reported by the right-wing media outlet Alpha News, The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis said:

The conservative think tank Center of the American Experiment wrote a hit piece about MFT59 accusing the teachers of pushing their own agenda not rooted in the interests of their students.

Backlash against local teachers comes at a time when educators across the country are under attack for teaching content that highlights systemic racism throughout American history, which has been labeled “woke” or “critical race theory” (CRT) by conservative ideologues. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely Republican presidential prospect for 2024, has recently banned AP Black Studies courses in high schools across the state. Other states including Arkansas, North Dakota, Mississippi and Virginia are looking into following Florida’s lead.

Garraway believes the attack against Black history and so-called ‘CRT’ is directly connected to the recruitment of Black students to “join their ranks” as cops. She said young people learning about structural racism and the ways of the world is one of the greatest threats to power.

After the murder of Tyre Nichols by mostly Black police officers in Memphis, the abolitionist educator sees even more people considering a world without police.

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