As school leaders, the months that have passed since the COVID-19 crisis gripped New York City have been some of the most challenging of our careers. Our staff, our students, and many of our own families have suffered unspeakable loss, and yet we have not been able to come together as communities to mourn and support one another.
Not surprisingly, the virus has disproportionately ravaged New York’s most vulnerable communities, home to so many of our black, brown, and immigrant students.
As if a once-in-a-generation health crisis weren’t enough, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police reminds our students of the NYPD’s own sordid history of murdering and terrorizing black and brown New Yorkers; evidenced by the similar fates of Eric Garner, Kalief Browder, and Akai Gurley, and the dark era of stop-and-frisk.
Our students are civically engaged. They participate in and follow the protests that demand accountability and justice. They watch as the police--who they are asked to trust as their protectors--indiscriminately deploy tear gas, ram protestors with squad cars, pepper spray peaceful demonstrators and compliant journalists, and flash white power symbols to approving colleagues. The NYPD’s human rights abuses are on full display as they assert once again their indifference toward black and brown citizens’ immeasurable grief, and their intolerance for expressions of justified rage.
When our children finally return to the classroom, these crises will have left them in need of unprecedented levels of support from us, both academic and emotional. Instead, they will return to schools with budgets that have been gutted by over $827 million dollars. They will return to schools without adequate access to social workers, mental health and counseling services, restorative justice programs, arts programs, sports teams, and after school programming.
At the same time, the NYPD will see its budget substantially increased. When our students emerge from the collective trauma of COVID-19 and rampant police brutality, they’ll be met by faces wearing an NYPD uniform; on the corner, at the bus stop, in the subway, and at the doors of their schools. This will trigger feelings of fear, anger, and anxiety – not safety. After all, what evidence do black and brown students have that they can trust law enforcement officers?
The priorities of our city and state in this budget are clear. Children last, NYPD first.
We would be remiss in our duties to our students if we did not use what power we have to join their efforts to convince those who remain indifferent that “Black Lives Matter.” In light of that responsibility, we demand that the governor, mayor, and city council pass a budget that puts children first during this crucial time. That means drastic increases to public school and social service budgets, and sharp cuts to the NYPD’s budget. Increased school budgets should include funding for:
In addition, we call for: