We, the organizers of the Black Lives Matter at School movement, strongly condemn the shameful attack on Boston educators launched by Boston Police Patrolmen’s Union President Michael Leary. During the first week of February, 2020, thousands of educators in over 40 cities and towns around the country organized the third annual Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. Leary wrote a letter on behalf of the 1,400 members of his association attacking the Black Lives Matter at School movement and strongly urged that Boston Teacher’s Union President Jessica Tang withdraw her union’s participation from the national Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action.
In his letter, Leary wrote that Black Lives Matter has made policing more dangerous— without sighting any examples or statistics—and claimed, “Vilifying those who serve the public as police officers only increases distrust and puts police and citizens at risk of increased violence from an emboldened group of angry anti-police individuals.”
This attack on educators who seek to support the lives of Black students is shameful, misguided, and harmful to Black students and educators. The suggestion that uplifting and affirming Black students in school—the true purpose of the Black Lives Matter at School movement—is putting police and citizens at risk of increased violence is shocking and reprehensible.
“Through our participation, we’re demonstrating support, love, and affirmation to our Black students, families, and educators,” Tang courageously responded to the Boston police union.
The Black Lives Matter at School national week of action has four demands for supporting Black youth’s education: ending zero tolerance discipline policies in schools, mandating Black history and ethnic studies in curriculum, hiring more Black educators, and funding counselors not cops.
In response to the last demand, Leary wrote in his letter, “Even the ‘Week of Action National Demands’ you posted on the BTU website includes the goal, ‘Fund Counselors Not Cops.’ While more counselors may be a good idea, the idea that spending less on public safety will make our communities better or safer is ridiculous.”
As in any social movement, the people who make up the Black Lives Matter at School movement have many different opinions about the role of police in society. However, what we can agree on is that when school districts have precious scarce resources, they should invest their money in upstream interventions that support the social and emotional well being of children—such as counselors, school psychologists, and social workers—to build relationships with students in order to get at the root of problems that could potentially causes conflicts and thereby prevent safety concerns. As data from recent reports reveal, school-based mental health providers not only improve student outcomes, but can also improve overall school safety. As the ACLU wrote in their report,
“There is no evidence that increased police presence in schools improves school safety. Indeed, in many cases, it causes harm. When in schools, police officers do what they are trained to do, which is detain, handcuff, and arrest. This leads to greater student alienation and a more threatening school climate.”
The U.S. is one of the very few countries in the world that polices children in school and it is especially inappropriate when so many schools fail to provide services to support whole child development, positive discipline and promote conflict resolution. 1.7 million children go to a school in the U.S. where there is a police officer and no counselor—and some 14 million students attend a school without a counselor, nurse, psychologist or social worker, yet do have a cop. This is why the Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools, youth organizations such as Students Deserve, and others across the country call for #PoliceFreeSchools as they continue to catalog the numerous police assaults on youth of color across the United States and push forward a vision of school safety that is not reliant on policing.
What is truly upsetting about officer Leary’s letter, is that nowhere in it does he acknowledge the inequities in education that have left Black students in the most underfunded schools in the nation, that have lead to Black students being suspended at dramatically disproportionate rates, or that have left students with a curriculum that obscures the many great contributions to the world by people of African descent.
We call on the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Union to withdraw its letter against the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. Black Lives Matter at School is a national movement for equity, inclusion, and the uplifting of Black students, not an attack on police, and deserves to be supported by everyone who believes in justice and an empowering education.
Black Lives Matter at School Coalition