How Teenagers Got Police to Back Down and Remove Military-Grade Weaponry From Their High Schools

A rally involving more than 300 students and parents marches on the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, April 7, 2014. (Monica Almeida / The New York Times) A rally involving more than 300 students and parents marches on the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, April 7, 2014. (Photo: Monica Almeida / The New York Times)

A coalition of Los Angeles high school students and grassroots organizers just accomplished the unthinkable. After nearly two years of sit-ins and protests, they forced the police department for the second-largest public school district in the United States to remove grenade launchers, M-16 rifles, a mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle and other military-grade weaponry from its arsenal.

But the coalition did not stop there. Members took over a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board meeting in February to call for proof that the arms had been returned to the Department of Defense — a demand they eventually won in the form of an itemized invoice for every weapon sent back to the DoD.

Going further, the coalition successfully pressed board members of the school district to apologize for greenlighting the policing of K-12 students with weapons of war.

“I now understand that especially in the context of the many conflicts between law enforcement and communities of color across the nation, our participation in this program may have created perceptions about the role of our district and our school police that my silence exacerbated,” Steve Zimmer, the president of the board of education, wrote in a May 19 letter to the groups Fight for the Soul of the Cities and Labor Community Strategy Center, which played a key role in the campaign. “Please accept my apology for any and all of my actions that contributed to feelings of betrayal and injury and interrupted our important collaborative efforts for equity and justice in all aspects of public education.”

Perhaps most stunningly, the coalition eventually persuaded the Los Angeles School Police Department to issue its own apology. “The LASPD recognizes the sensitive historical aspect of associating ‘military-like’ equipment and…

Read more