An upcoming Black Lives Matter rally has created a rift between the union that represents Los Angeles public school teachers and the police force that protects more than 640,000 students enrolled in the nation’s second-largest school system.
The fallout comes after The Daily Wire published an article two weeks ago titled, "Teachers Union Teams With Black Lives Matter To Organize Students Against School Police." The president of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which speaks for upward of 33,000 educators, nurses, and counselors in the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD), described the headline as "unfortunate and misleading."
"I didn't want to believe it at first," said P.J. Webb, President of the Los Angeles School Police Management Association. "I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, but the more evasive they were about it, the more suspicious we became. We're cops."
The February 24 event, called "Making Black Lives Matter in Schools," is billed as a drive "to end random searches and criminalization while fighting for community schools funding." UTLA signed on as a co-sponsor, along with Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, and other organizations that have been organizing students against the nation’s largest independent school police department.
However, the lead organizer of Black Lives Matter’s L.A. chapter recently referenced an incremental strategy by some activists to completely remove officers stationed throughout the district, which includes "taking an abolitionist approach, and beginning by ending random searches in schools."
The unions representing police officers in L.A. public schools reached out to UTLA for clarification of its motivations for partnering with a group with such extreme objectives. Two sit-downs ensued, the first of which took place about an hour before news broke of a shooting inside Sal Castro Middle School — part of L.A.'s public system.
According to Webb, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl explained that the teachers union backs ending the random search policy but does not have an organizational position supporting the abolishment of school police.
“He went on to describe the article and The Daily Wire as a right-wing, Trump-supporting, anti-union rag,” Webb recalled.
Law enforcement representatives said Caputo-Pearl did not refute any of the information reported in the article and began "dancing" around the subject when pressed whether UTLA supports the L.A. School Police Department.
That prompted police officials to take out their mobile devices, where they began to sift through UTLA's social media accounts.
"We started going into (UTLA's) websites and quoting what they were saying," said Rudy Perez, Vice President of the L.A. School Police Officers Association.
They quickly discovered several objectionable posts, like encouraging "youth of color" to organize against the "over-policing" of L.A.’s public school system. Here is a deleted post from UTLA's official Twitter account:
As evidence continued to mount, police reps requested UTLA issue a statement showing support for the district's officers.
"We said, 'Just give us a letter that we can put out to our membership to say that we're on the same page, that you support us,'" said Gil Gamez, President of the L.A. School Police Officers Association.
UTLA refused but did delete several anti-police postings from its online platforms, then attempted further damage control by deceiving its members.
In a "talking points" email distributed to more than 800 chapter chairs, UTLA's leadership wrote:
As expected in the age of Janus, an anti-union blog, "The Daily Wire," has spread falsities about UTLA's position regarding school police in attempts to divide us. UTLA has never called for the abolition of school police.
The Daily Wire made no such claim.
UTLA shared the email with both police unions involved and L.A. School Police Chief Steven Zipperman, passing off the two-sentence excerpt as a statement of support. Ironically, the email concludes with "we must continue to build and escalate the campaign for the Schools L.A. Students Deserve," which is an education reform activist group that is also a co-sponsor of the upcoming rally. Its website lists "end policing" in schools as a primary goal.
Two days after accusing The Daily Wire of spreading "falsities," a screenshot captured from UTLA's website reveals that the teachers union republished part of the very article it is trying to discredit.
As UTLA's website replicated, verbatim:
The union that represents Los Angeles public school teachers will co-sponsor a rally next month with Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, and other groups that have been organizing students against the district's police force.
The plagiarized paragraph led to a promotional flyer for the February 24 rally — stamped with UTLA's logo — that quotes convicted cop-killer Assata Shakur, who Black Lives Matter honors at the end of every official action.
"Our officers are talking to teachers on campuses, and they know nothing about these things," said Gamez. "This is the upper echelon of the UTLA union, I assume."
The flyer advertises Patrisse Cullors, a police abolitionist who co-founded Black Lives Matter, as the keynote speaker. She once tweeted, "If we don't want money going to law enforcement, fight to dismantle them. That's what I do."
Before investigating the rally and its sponsors, police officials were not aware that the teachers union had such radical, anti-cop bedfellows, describing their former relationship with UTLA as "hunky-dory" and "kumbaya." UTLA's unwillingness to express solidarity with its union brothers and sisters in blue has strained that connection.
Rally organizers had initially promoted a live performance from the rapper, Common, who was disinvited by UTLA after the organization learned of his support for charter schools.
"It's good information to know, that UTLA leadership does have a line that they won't cross," joked Webb. "It's okay to get rid of police and endanger the safety of our kids, staff, and [their] members, but don't be a charter school proponent."
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.