Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) — the Woodlawn-based activist group that has scored wins in recent years on issues like the University of Chicago trauma center and a Community Benefits Agreement for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) — has turned its attention recently to another timely, touchy subject: police in schools.
This summer, the organization was part of the campaign to get Chicago Public Schools to sever its contract with the Chicago Police Department, and, when that failed, they pushed the CPS board to cut the budget for police in schools.
“We didn't get the vote. We didn't get to vote them out of the school, unfortunately, but we did get the cut and pretty much cut that budget in half,” said Ling Young, a youth organizer with STOP, in reference to the $33 million in funding for police set to be cut to $12 million in next year’s CPS budget.
Now, STOP is bringing the issue to Young’s old high school, Hyde Park Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave. In July, the Local School Council (LSC) unanimously voted to keep police officers in the school. Young, who graduated from the school this summer, said the vote reflected a disconnect between the staff and social justice–oriented youth.
For her, starting to work with STOP’s youth leadership program in 2016 when she was a freshman at the school helped her develop her thinking around policing, giving her a refuge and spurring her to make change within her community.
"They gave me an outlet to kind of display how I felt about policing, and to kind of figure out a way for me to say how I felt about [police in our schools] and a way to resolve it," she said.
While STOP, as a nonprofit, can't support particular candidates in the Nov. 19 LSC election, the organization will host a virtual forum this Saturday, where community members, parents and students can ask candidates in the LSC election, as well as current LSC members, some questions about police in schools and what they can do to get them out.
After Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced this summer that she would leave it up to the LSCs to decide on whether schools kept their Student Resource Officers (SROs) or not, only 17 of the 70 LSCs that voted on the issue decided to remove police. But new LSCs will be able to vote on the issue again.
Maira Khwaja, who works as the director of public impact strategy and outreach at the Invisible Institute, is running as a community representative for the Hyde Park Academy LSC. For the last four years, she's been working with students in the school's broadcast and media class, leading conversations around their interactions with police through the Invisible Institute's Youth/Police Project.
Khwaja described the fight over police in schools as a long-term one, pointing out that most of the LSCs who did choose to get rid of police this summer were majority-white.
"I think what you see [the decision] made at the LSC level, that you'll see very wealthy and majority white schools voting out their cops, because they have all kinds of other resources that make the cost sort of obsolete as a need for safety. Whereas in a school that is majority-Black and under-resourced, I think you'll see LSCs and parents be like, 'We're afraid,' " she said.
The demand to take CPD out of CPS schools is exacerbated not only by how unevenly police use excessive force against the Black community in the city, but also by the lack of resources apparent in many of the city's public schools.
Young said that at Hyde Park Academy there are only two guidance counselors for 800 students; she also said that while there are only two police officers who work inside the school, there are about 10 who often patrol outside in the vicinity of the school.
Ling said she first noticed the disparities in her community with the announcement of the Obama Presidential Center. "Why are they building like the largest, million dollar establishment building right across the street from this high school? We got rats, we got roaches,” she said.
The school received $40 million from Chicago Public Schools for capital renovations in 2018, which Ling said happened after young people at the school joined the CBA campaign.
In other areas of the city, organizations such as Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Pilsen Alliance, and Chicago Freedom School are asking for a reallocation of funds to go towards alternatives to policing such as restorative justice programs, counselors and social workers.
Khwaja, for her part, says she understands and supports the fight to get CPD out of CPS — though she doesn't think it will happen within the next year, she's hopeful in the longer term. “When we talk about the future of our public schools," she said, "we want a future in which we don't feel like we need to have cops in our schools.”
Hyde Park Academy’s LSC election is scheduled for Nov. 19. STOP will hold a forum this Saturday, Nov. 14. For more information, or to register, visit stopchicago.org/news/hpalsc.
Marc Monaghan contributed reporting.