On June 16, 2021, the Fresno Unified School Board reached the decision to renew the $3 million contract with the Fresno Police Department, voting 6-0 with Trustee Veva Islas abstaining from the vote. This decision comes after years of community groups and organizers fighting to get cops off of Fresno Unified campuses.
The #CareNotCops movement in Fresno, which has been spearheaded by Fresno Barrios Unidos, has aimed to demand real safety for Fresno students. The movement has included pushing for public comments, creating petitions, talking to board members, and rallying in favor of taking cops off campuses.
The main concern regarding police on campus is how they can negatively affect students of color in FUSD schools. Black students in FUSD only make up about 9% of the student body, yet they account for 25% of the students who are referred to law enforcement. Clearly, the numbers show that BIPOC (black, indigenous, and other people of color) students are disproportionately affected by having cops on campus.
Some critics of the campaign have suggested that schools implement training and programs to help police build positive relationships with students. However, many argue that students have had to watch people like George Floyd, Duante Wright, Sean Monterrosa, and many others die at the hands of police in their communities and may not be receptive to that. One incident with the police right here in Fresno even resulted in the death of 16-year-old Isiah Murrieta-Golding.
Many organizers in the #CareNotCops campaign point out that there is no difference in training between the officers contracted by the Fresno Police Department and the ones students see harming their communities. Beyond that, Power California’s 99Rootz Youth Organizer Jasmine Leiva points out that “the district wants students to develop positive relationships with SROs (school resource officers) when they could build a trusting relationship with any other adults on campus.”
For many BIPOC students and community members, police are not what is needed to feel safe. As Leiva puts it, “We shouldn’t be relying on police to fill the gaps in social, emotional support for students; that is not their role.” As a majority BIPOC school district, safety in Fresno Unified needs to be grounded in the needs of our most vulnerable students and students of color.
The #CareNotCops campaign came with a multitude of demands, including the reinvestment of $1.8 million into student mental health resources on FUSD campuses. Fresno Unified has an appalling lack of mental health staff and resources. Currently, the district only has about one school psychologist per every 1,144 students, a number far greater than the nationally recommended ratio of 250 students to every one mental health professional.
More full-time school counselors are another important demand. Statewide, California has one of the highest student-to-counselor ratios in the US, with only about one counselor for every 682 students on average.
Another demand was the reallocation of funds to on-campus wellness centers, a move that would greatly improve the mental and physical health of students who don’t have access to care in their community. With these clinics would come behavioral health staff, medical staff, and peer-to-peer support dedicated to improving the lives of students in need. These clinics would have an abundance of positive impacts, like the improvement of student mental health, decreased rates of asthma, and lowered rates of substance abuse in our students.
The campaign also argues that police are a misuse of school resources. Despite increasing the amount of SROs on campuses in the U.S., there have still been up to 180 school shootings in the past 10 years. Many of the minor on-campus issues that school police respond to can be handled in less punitive ways.
FUSD is wasting our funds when we could be putting it towards resources that help students rather than punish and police them. There are better, more effective ways to handle issues on campus than police. One prime example of this is Oakland Unified School District, a school district that successfully adopted restorative justice practices. After making this move, OUSD has seen 87% fewer suspensions and no expulsions in the first two years alone.
In a press release after the vote, Fresno Barrios Unidos Executive Director Ashley Rojas talked about the board’s decision. “We are disappointed FUSD has voted to continue a legacy of overinvestment in police and disinvestment in education,” Rojas said. “They have failed to listen to the needs of Black, Latinx, and other students of color who are more likely to be criminalized and disproportionately arrested on school campuses.”
But this vote is not the end of the campaign. The #CareNotCops campaign is part of a larger, statewide movement to get police off school campuses. Despite FUSD’s decision to keep police in schools, organizers will continue to fight for the wellness of students in Fresno and across California.
“This fight isn’t over and we will keep fighting to ensure Fresno schools are caring, welcoming, and safe places for all students to learn,” Rojas said.