Group protests police in schools at school board member’s home

A group of young people marched to a Minneapolis school board member’s home on Saturday to protest the use of police officers in schools.

The group walked to board member Rebecca Gagnon’s house in South Minneapolis holding signs and chanting slogans against the use of school resource officers. Several leaders of the group knocked on Gagnon’s door and read a list of demands, which included a complete end to the SRO program and funding for restorative justice in schools.

The group was organized by the Minneapolis branch of the Young Peoples Action Coalition, a Northfield-based social issues group. A member of the alternative news site Unicorn Riot recorded the march and the protest, which lasted about 30 minutes.

“With cops in our schools, black and brown youth in the Twin Cities are overpoliced and criminalized …” one young person said while standing on Gagnon’s front steps. “The Minneapolis school board has continued to fund these violent policies. Those in power continue to ignore us.”

The march came about six month after the Minneapolis school board voted to approve a new three-year contract with the Minneapolis Police Department for the services of 14 SROs. Gagnon, who was board chair at the time, was one of eight school board members to vote for the new contract.

On Twitter Saturday, Gagnon thanked the group for staying engaged in the SRO conversation. She said she has spoken to the superintendent and police chief about shifting to a “community ambassador model & removing SRO who would be assigned as a beat cop in the school community.”

“I support NO SRO w/ this alternative,” she wrote, adding that she’s “always happy” to meet with groups.

In an interview Monday, Gagnon said the community-ambassador model has been employed in downtown Minneapolis. She said it allows for a community liaison, who is not carrying a weapon, to deal with nonviolent situations and be backed up by a beat cop.

Gagnon, who is running for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives, said she was out door knocking when the protesters came to her door Saturday but that her 14-year-old daughter was home alone.

“It was quite alarming,” she said. “… It’s just not typical. It’s not typical that people do this.”

Gagnon said she didn’t call the police until threats started happening on social media. She reiterated that she’s happy to sit down with the students but said that no one had reached out to her before the protest.

Fiona Rose Kelly, a senior at South High School, estimated that between 50 and 60 people were at the march and rally. The group included a mix of Minneapolis and St. Paul students and adults, she said.

She said the Young Peoples Action Coalition met with Gagnon about SROs this summer but that she had an inconsistent message on the topic. She said the district never took large steps toward restorative justice practices while Gagnon was board chair.

“We’ve been at all the meetings, and we’ve told her what we need, but she never comes reaching out to us,” she said.

The Minneapolis district’s new contract reduced the number of SROs in the district from 16 to 14. It required the officers to wear “soft” uniforms while in school and required the police department to participate in a monthly review of discipline incidents that involve police contact.

Dozens of students and young people protested the contract during school board meetings this past summer. One organization rallied against the contract on the night of the vote in August and disrupted the meeting.

Advocates of SROs say the officers help deter trouble, build relationships with students and sometimes have their own attitudes about young people changed by the role.

“They’re changing that perception of what a police officer is, and that can carry over into the communities where 911 responders are out…,” Minneapolis police Commander Bruce Folkens told the Southwest Journal this summer.

Saturday’s march was one of several protests during Super Bowl week. Protestors blocked light rail tracks near the University of Minnesota midafternoon Sunday. There was also an “anti-racist anti-corporate rally” that started at Chicago & Franklin and ended with a march to U.S. Bank Stadium.

Other actions during Super Bowl week included a protest in downtown Minneapolis against U.S. Bank, a protest against Home Depot in Northeast Minneapolis and a protest at Mayor Jacob Frey’s home.