Members of the Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard are organizing their classmates to dismantle the police department that protects more than 640,000 students enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) — the nation’s second-largest public education system.
“What (we) are working on right now is abolishing policing in our schools,” explained 14-year-old Thandiwe Abdullah on “Move the Crowd,” an internet talk show hosted by her mother, Dr. Melina Abdullah, a professor at California State University who also leads the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter.
“Policing is a derivative of slave-catching,” Thandiwe said on Thursday’s broadcast, repeating a claim her mother has made several times while lecturing to college students across the country. “That whole system was basically created to capture black people specifically, and profit off of it.”
Thandiwe’s 11-year-old sister, Amara, also appeared as a guest on the program; both described as “founding members of the Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard” by their mother. The vanguard — made up of children and adolescents aged 6 to 18 — started organizing students, parents, and faculty against the “over-policing” of L.A.’s public schools in 2016.
Dr. Abdullah referenced an incremental strategy to completely remove school police officers stationed throughout the district, which includes “taking an abolitionist approach, and beginning by ending random searches,” a drive that is already underway.
Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, and other allies have been rallying schoolkids to protest the district’s mandatory random search policy, asserting it unfairly targets black and brown students. Siblings Alexis and Sydney Keys, both 17, are part of an education reform activist group involved with that organizing effort. They also joined the Abdullah sisters in the studio speaking on behalf of the youth vanguard.
Professor Abdullah referred to the Keys twins as her “spirit daughters” as they went on to echo many of her grown-up Black Lives Matter themes, such as a distrust of law enforcement and a desire to revamp America’s vision of criminal justice.
“I would describe myself as a police and prison abolitionist because I believe it’s part of the same system,” said Alexis Keys, who contends that both institutions were designed to benefit white people. “The system is based too much on racism and oppressing people rather than actually protecting people’s safety. To be fixed, it has to be abolished.”
“It’s a capitalism thing,” concluded Sydney Keys. “Most people who are in prison are there because they were broke or poor. Most people who go to prison who committed a violent crime or petty theft did it because they didn’t have any money, and that’s how capitalism works. It punishes you for not being in the top one percent.”
The school board increased the budget for the Los Angeles School Police Department in 2016 to $67 million. The youth vanguard says that money could better serve students if used to provide more counselors, an ethnic studies curriculum, restorative justice training and mental health resources.
In November, Canada’s largest school board voted to remove uniformed officers from dozens of public schools after years of urging from Black Lives Matter-Toronto and other like-minded groups.
During Thursday’s broadcast, Dr. Abdullah praised the youth vanguard for “drawing from the research of people like Angela Davis,” a 1960s radical known for her association with the Black Panthers and the Communist Party.
Abdullah assured her audience, “The movement is in good hands with these four, and all of the comrades who work with them.”
Youth vanguard members joined Dr. Abdullah on the stage at the Women’s March in L.A. on Saturday, where they used the platform to speak out against the United States’ “alliance with Israel” and “make it clear that Black Lives Matter stands with the people of Palestine.”
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.