By Bobbie Joe Garcia
At the last Greenfield City Council meeting, it was planned that this upcoming Tuesday, Nov. 10, would be the council’s opportunity to invest in opportunities for youth in their community. The council is expected to vote on accepting and matching state grant funds with Sun Street Center for a youth diversion program at Greenfield High School.
However, right now this vote would also result in increasing funds for police as gatekeepers of these services. While expanding opportunities for youth to access programs and diverting them from the justice system is key in the fight to end the school-to-prison pipeline, funding police to do so runs in conflict with the program’s stated purpose and our values.
Since 2016, the City of Greenfield has increased its police budget by 54 percent, from $2.3 million to $3.5 million. In contrast, the city’s parks budget is just $500,000 and budgets for recreation centers have flatlined close to zero. Greenfield lacks accessible community services, with the majority in Monterey County located in other cities, such as King City and Salinas. Many in our community are questioning our societal reliance on policing and the widespread prioritization of exorbitant police budgets that yield little to no positive change in the lives of most people.
As a GHS alumni, I saw firsthand how the school relies on armed, uniformed police — known as school resource officers, or SROs — to control students. I witnessed students be suspended for anything from making a crude joke to not having a bathroom pass, while teachers consistently threatened to “call the SRO” for even the smallest misstep. The level of policing was bullyish in an educational institution with the stated mission to “empower all students to achieve academic success and reach their fullest potential.”
With 1,542 suspensions over the last three years, it is no wonder that the school climate has been consistently described as unwelcoming and negative. In fact, between 2018-2019 GHS had 356 suspensions representing 46 percent of all willful defiance suspensions, while Gonzales, Soledad, and King City high schools had 23 suspensions combined.
Cities across the country have begun reckoning with the fact that community – not police – keep us safe, and have committed to defunding the police and investing in community. Defunding the police includes defunding SROs. In fact, at least five other school districts in Monterey County have already rejected the use of SROs in schools, including Soledad Unified School District, Salinas Union High School District, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Alisal Union Elementary School District, and Salinas Elementary School District. More than 300 people have already signed a letter to the Greenfield City Council supporting the divestment from SROs and reinvestment into social-emotional support and programming from local organizations.
Moreover, it should not be lost on anyone that while the War on Drugs criminalized and incarcerated generations of people of color, today’s increase to Greenfield’s police budget is largely funded by incoming cannabis tax revenues — the same revenues the city officials originally promised would be used to fund programming for youth and elders. Now, Greenfield police, who once uprooted people’s lives for minor possession of cannabis, now reap the benefits of its legalization while community priorities are ignored.
Finally, the anticipated vote this Tuesday and subsequent council meetings sit against a critical backdrop as public health officials have made it clear that we are on the cusp of another wave of COVID-19. Every day, the United States hits new records of coronavirus cases while the federal government remains at an impasse over funding a new stimulus package. Local governments, like Greenfield, must take seriously their responsibility to make equitable budget choices that reflect the concerns of its population who are working class, farm-working, Latinx, and Indigenous.
The movement to defund the police and end the school-to-prison pipeline is a movement to reevaluate and shift how we as a society choose to address our social problems. We can create a reality where we build up and support the needs of our communities by providing the resources people need to live happy and healthy lives. We just need a city council that will help us fight for it.
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