Black Lives Matter – along with the ACLU and other allies – recently organized a demonstration demanding an end to “policies that criminalize Black and Brown students” in Los Angeles public schools. The rally featured an English teacher who explained to students that “whiteness is not the default. Your blackness is the default. Your brownness is the default.”
The gathering took place outside the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) headquarters following last Tuesday’s board meeting, where several of the activists had just denounced the district’s random search policy as racist and detrimental. When public comment concluded, a member of the school board recognized the speakers’ “positive activism” – a breach of protocol by discussing an item that was not on the agenda.
“I’m an abolitionist, so I do not believe that police should be on site in general,” Ashunda Norris, an English teacher at LAUSD’s Dorsey High School, told the board. “What it does is create psychological warfare against students. Students believe that they are nothing. Students believe that they are criminals and that this is only for black and brown students.”
At the rally outside that supervened, Norris took to the microphone again and delivered a pep talk which focused on maintaining black and brown identity – energizing the students, organizers, and activists in attendance.
“Part of my work is becoming a radical teacher and teaching my students that their blackness or brownness is not a crime,” Norris told the crowd, which erupted in cheers.
“There is nothing to be ashamed of if you crossed the border,” she continued. “Do you know how hard it is to cross a border? It is nothing to be ashamed of that your people are displaced Africans.”
Before joining the staff at LAUSD’s Dorsey High, Norris was part of a network of independent charter schools co-founded by Netflix mogul Reed Hastings. At Aspire Pacific Academy in Huntington Park, California, Norris was part of a team whose mission includes catalyzing “change in public schools.”
Although Norris was the only LAUSD teacher to speak at the rally, the 33,000-member teachers union appears to be advocating for her same objectives.
Last September, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) helped organize the first official Black Lives Matter event inside an LAUSD school. Coincidentally, it took place in Dorsey High’s auditorium. The Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles (BLM-LA) Youth Vanguard led a discussion on topics like white supremacy and police misconduct – the same themes Norris used to bring the house down at last week’s rally.
“What I’m trying to do as an abolitionist is eradicate police on campus,” Norris announced.
“We’re going to get these cops out of our schools, and we’re going to end these random searches, and we’re going to be proud to be black and brown.”
Thandiwe Abdullah, a 13-year-old LAUSD student who is part of the BLM-LA Youth Vanguard, also spoke.
Christabel Ukomadu, a junior at Dorsey H.S. who emceed the event, led a tribute to Assata Shakur – a fugitive who escaped from prison while serving a life sentence for the 1973 murder of a New Jersey State Trooper. Shakur is among the FBI’s Most Wanted, and Black Lives Matter closes out every action by chanting her words.
Joining BLM-LA in organizing the event was the Youth Justice Coalition; the ACLU of Southern California; an education reform group called The Schools LA Students Deserve; and Public Counsel, a pro-bono law firm.
Actor Matt McGorry, who has been a staunch ally of BLM-LA, was on hand, tweeting pictures and video to his massive social media following.
LAUSD’s most recent statistics reveal that authorities seized nearly 840 weapons during the 2014-2015 school year. However, it is not clear how many of those were discovered through random searches. There are more than 640,000 students enrolled in the district, which is the second-largest in the nation.
As the L.A. School Report detailed:
The practice of randomly selecting students every day and “wanding” them with metal detectors has been a mandatory requirement at every school with sixth- to 12th-graders since the school board passed the idea in 2005. It is also done at younger grade levels as needed. The policy requires that the schools perform the searches every day but doesn’t specify who should do it. Some schools have administrators, deans, safety personnel, school police or teachers do it regularly or on a rotating basis.
The practice originally started after gunfire killed a student by accident in 1993, six years before the Columbine school massacre.
In 2015, the ACLU launched a multi-pronged “Students Not Suspects” campaign. Last year it started an online petition urging LAUSD to rescind its random search policy. In an ACLU-produced video, a young man presumed to be an LAUSD student describes his experiences as sickly piano music plays on.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos