photo courtesy of the Black Organizing Project

As Oakland High School student Francisco Martinez wheeled up to the podium at last week’s board of education meeting to tell how he had been pushed out of his wheelchair at school by an Oakland School Police Department officer, the need to rein in police activity at school sites was clear.

“I was beaten and thrown out of my chair,” Martinez said,

The officer had handcuffed the paraplegic student after a scuffle with him about getting to class, and then slapped him and pushed him out of his chair onto the floor — all of which was caught on surveillance video. That officer was immediately fired and arrested on charges of child abuse as a result. But it underscored why the role of school police – and city police – within the Oakland Unified School District, has been a concern of parents, student and most particularly the Black Organizing Project for years.

The BOP has been asking the district to rein in school police and set policies on the role and accepted practices of police and security officers on campus. Too often, incidents of defiant conversation between students and security officers have escalated into physical confrontations and students getting booked. Children as young as 9 years old have endured police interrogations.

So it was a major victory, BOP members said, when the school board passed two measures last week defining what police could and could not do on campus, limiting their ability to question students during school time and providing students the right to have a parent or guardian present during any police questioning.

“This is a big victory,” said Michael Ford, whose step-daughter and niece were once pulled out of a classroom to be questioned by police. “We are not against law enforcement on campus, we want to work with them and protect the kids. That is their purpose, to create a safe learning environment.”

The board voted unanimously to forbid police to conduct interrogations of students during school hours and in a second measure again voted unanimously to require school officials to tell students of their right to have a parent or guardian present and to notify parents if police intend to question their student. Both measures had exceptions for extenuating circumstances, such as if violence occurred on campus or if questioning is needed because the student is believed to be a victim of child abuse.

“We need to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline” that is fostered by a heavy police presence in school, said Misha Cornelius, Communications and Operations Coordinator at the Black Organizing Project. Having a run-in with police, even once, doubles a student’s chances of dropping out, the organization says, and police contact is one of the strongest predictors of whether a student will fail to finish school or have to repeat grades. Also, subjecting young students to police questioning can leave them traumatized or shaken.

“We are students, not suspects, so we should be treated like students,” Reginae Hightower, a student at McClymonds High School, told the board. “I really don’t like the idea of an officer questioning me without my parent. What if I say the wrong thing or mess up?”

In research it conducted for a report on “The Impact of Policing on Oakland Youth,” the BOP traced a pattern of racial bias in who police interact with at schools and who gets arrested as a juvenile in Oakland. African-American students received 73 percent of the arrests or citations from school police in the last two years, even though African-Americans make up only 30 percent of the student population in OUSD. Also, the BOP’s research found that three out of four juvenile arrests by the Oakland Police Department were African-American youth, even though they make up 29 percent of the youth population. While school security guards or school police may protect students against intruders, the presence of police on campus, and particularly in hallways, sometimes creates a confrontational atmosphere, the organization found.

Last week’s vote put the finishing touches on the policy by adding the two measure forbidding the Oakland Police Department or Oakland School Police to formally question students during instructional time, and giving students the right to have a parent present when the questioning does take place.

The policy also states:

  • No school police officer or school security officer shall act as a school disciplinarian, and law enforcement shall only be used as a last resort.
  • Alternatives to police involvement, such as the use of restorative justice practices, must be tracked and documented, and a plan of support created for students who have multiple law enforcement contacts.
  • A private location out of sight and hearing of other students should be arranged whenever the arrest of a student is necessary, to avoid invasion of the student’s privacy and disruption on the school campus.
  • Data on referrals to law enforcement, citations and arrests must be tracked and shared with the Board of Education, and OUSD must develop an action plan to address any disproportionate minority contact.
  • School police officers shall tell any student that he or she may have a parent/guardian present before and during an interrogation, and that he or she may decide to wait for the parent before questioning begins.
  • A school official must take immediate steps to contact a parent/guardian to get oral consent to permit any police interrogation of the minor, unless the child is a suspected victim of child abuse. If the parent or guardian requests that the pupil not be questioned until he or she can be present, the pupil may not be made available to the officer for questioning until the parent or guardian is present.
  • School police shall make every effort to handle law enforcement-related issues that are not school-related outside of school.
  • OUSD must develop a plan to correct racially-biased discipline by intervening at schools with where police contact and arrests of African-American students show a pattern of being more frequent than police contact with other students. The intervention must be usable district-wide, and the district has to report to the board twice a year on results.

About The Author

Barbara Grady is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach her at

16 Responses

  1. Oakie

    In the first few paragraphs the person who has been arrested for abusing the student in a wheelchair as a “police officer.” Later there are references to “security guards” and to “security officer.”

    I thought “police officer” is very specifically referring to a sworn officer of the law. Am I wrong? I did not think this person was a police officer.

    What is the difference between a “security guard” and a “security officer?”

    Given how the article focuses on policing and citizen/student rights when detained or questioned by a police officer, the distinction matters.

    Also, the article states BOP claims “racial bias” because of the disproportionate number of arrests of AA students relative to their share of the student population.

    Has the concept of “causation is different than correlation” been removed from our statistical analysis books?

    Do we know the proportion of arrests of male students relative to their share of the student population? If it is disproportionate, is that because of bias also? If not, why not? I leave that as an exercise in critical thinking.

  2. Stephanie Martina

    Thanks for this news. As a public school educator and an Oakland taxpayer, I’d like more folks to be aware of these findings:

    Oakland taxpayers, examine where the majority of your $$$ is going to promote school “safety”. Schools don’t need armed and uniformed officers to build and maintain safety in our schools; they need more of the kinds of nurturing support that can come through counselors, therapists, teachers who do not view the youth in their schools as potential criminals but rather as young people who deserve identity safe classrooms and who have an amazing capacity to learn.

  3. Nancy Polin

    Big achievement, getting clear policies about police behavior in schools. The existence of police in schools opens the door to abuse without rules limiting their role and the range of their responses to real or perceived student infractions. BOP should get lots of praise for their hard work and persistence on this issue.

  4. Oakie

    Stephanie Martina:

    I’m reading the document you suggest to make me “aware” of these findings. But I have to say I don’t see much besides wrong information, claims without data to back it up and correlations presented as causalities. That is a toxic brew of misinformation in pursuit of an agenda. What I did not find was information to allow me to make up my own mind.

    For example, there is the claim that California is 49th in funding of education. To start with, Jerry Brown’s new budget includes approximately a $3,000 bump up statewide per student that represents about a 30% increase in funding from the state.

    Not only is there no acknowledgement for this, but no one at the OUSD feeding trough is interested in taking responsibility for demonstrating how they are going to use this windfall and actually measure objective criteria to prove that the money is going to improve what is abysmal performance of academic achievement or preparation of our young people for the world they will become a part of. None. It’s outrageous, and yet no one is outraged at that. The rubric is a blind demand for ever more money. Unchallenged, unmeasured, and as far as I can see wasted.

    Furthermore, for Oakland in particular, the FY2013-2014 budget is $549 Million. By OUSD’s own documentation, they make no mention of any of this budget being devoted to charter schools, except for a little less than $1 Million for charter school administration. If that is the public school budget, and there are 36,000 students (again, by their own documentation), then Oakland students are funded at more than $15,000 per student. If Oakland were a state, that would make us 12th highest in the nation, according to documents provided by the CTA.

    That’s a big difference from being #49. But that never gets mentioned. Ever.

    The document you link us to also quotes the statistic of disproportionate punishment for African American students, and concludes that this is because of racial bias. That’s BOP’s thing, but it fails to distinguish between correlation and causation. Personally, I smell poverty pimping.

    Further, the document argues, neigh demands, more counselors and fewer cops. Or no cops, as Nancy Polin implies by saying “EXISTENCE of police in schools.”

    I find this a bit baffling, and at the same time somehow not surprising, given the dominant political culture here. The extreme and strident advocacy we have in Oakland is accompanied with very little critical thinking. And that is SOP around here.

    What is glaringly missing is any understanding of exactly what behavior is being punished with arrests, suspensions and other actions against the misbehaving students.

    Where is the data? Of course we have to expunge the names of juveniles, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a right to know what our school district and the school police and the city police are confronting in student behavior.

    So I am stuck with anecdotal information. Consider this, just from today’s Tribune:

    “Large groups of teens allegedly attacked and robbed people.”

    “one of the teens who had a handgun accidentally shot himself…arrested on suspicion of possession of a firearm and possession of a firearm while on probation.” So not only did this kid have an illegal gun but was at the time on probation for a previous crime.”

    “chased down and attacked two other teens…Both victims tried to run away, but members of the group chased one of them across the parking lot and across Fairmont Drive before catching, beating and kicking him, and removing his Nike shoes and iPhone”

    “Then on Monday, two teenagers were arrested on suspicion of attacking and robbing a couple in their car near the 2000 block of East 14th Street about 4:40 p.m. Police say a man, woman and 2-year-old child were in a car driving into a parking lot when a large group of teens blocked the entrance and told people in the car to go around.”

    “The adults got out of the car to confront the youths, and one of the teens responded by throwing a metal chair that nearly hit the woman, police said. During the confrontation, another teen ransacked the passenger compartment, and another teen got into the driver’s seat, put the car into gear and began driving out of the parking lot with the baby in tow”

    “The two teens arrested over that incident were expected to be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, carjacking, kidnapping and child endangerment.”

    “The arrests occurred about 40 minutes after police said three older teenagers swiped a shopping bag with Nike shoes from two middle-school students walking in the 2100 block of East 14th Street. One of the teens grabbed the boy carrying the bag and tried to rip away the bag, and when the student fought back, another of the teens pulled out a black handgun and pistol-whipped him into unconsciousness”

    “one of the teens caught up to him, punched him, threw him to the ground, then forcibly removed the Nike’s from his feet. That boy also had his iPhone stolen”

    I can tell from the locations described that these kids, with a very high probability, are from Oakland. These aren’t typical San Leandro behaviors, but they are very real Oakland behaviors. I am sure if you ask the cops off the record, that is exactly what they are thinking, too.

    So where’s the data so I don’t have to find my information in today’s newspaper? If you are going to claim we don’t need cops and that all the punishments are manifestations of racial bias, then prove it. Is that really too much to ask for? The daily newspaper gives evidence that flies in the face of your claims.

  5. JR

    Thank you Oakie for some common sense.

    Maybe Oakland Local should do some fact checking on this story whether this was a sworn officer of the OPD or a security gaurd- huge difference. To let a fact like that just stand in this article for days is bush league at best and falsely proving a point while unjustly thrusting OPD in a bad light.

    This coming from a school district that disciplines students different by the amount of melanin in their skin.

    You want to know why OUSD is the way it is? HInt: It’s not the students, it’s not the teachers, it’s not OPD or security gaurds- it’s bad parenting.

    Don’t know how to fix that, but don’t put the blame on someone who does not deserve it.

  6. Sheila

    I’m a parent that has spent a great deal visiting OUSD schools. and I have never seen such disrespect for the people trying to help these young people.
    and I am a firm believer that perhaps if the parents can’t or wont raise these young people them heads up people only so many places they will end up (dead or prison) I have never seen a good child behaving like he or she should being dealt with by officers. so if the parents can’t or wont handle their young people. then so be it. act like an animal get treated like one…………………..

  7. Seamus

    You write: “African-American students received 73 percent of the arrests or citations from school police in the last two years, even though African-Americans make up only 30 percent of the student population in OUSD…”

    It’s because they’re committing more crimes than other groups. While the officers who beat the wheelchair student need to be punished & fired for their misdeed, we can’t ignore reality or we’ll wind up like a bunch of FOX News watchers…permanently baffled.

    Thanks for your time.

  8. Oakie

    Of course you’re right. It is the obvious explanation. But Occum’s Razor is seldom employed when truth takes a back seat to agenda. That’s why I accuse BOP of poverty pimping: they have an agenda to move and have zero interest in the truth.

    I take your observations to heart. I suspect it is the real problem. It is very difficult to make any progress to solving it when we hear:

    Stephanie Martina: “Schools don’t need armed and uniformed officers to build and maintain safety in our schools; they need more of the kinds of nurturing support that can come through…”
    Nancy Polin: “The existence of police in schools opens the door to abuse without rules limiting their role and the range of their responses to real or perceived student infractions.”

    I think it should be said that most kids are not acting out and discipline problems, even in the most mismanaged of East and West Oakland schools. To me the biggest crime of all is that these kids are the ones who pay the price for all the knucklehead ideas about controlling the out-of-control kids. And that is a driving force as to why so many parents are voting with their feet and putting their kids in charter schools or some other way out of the district. The democratic system is now so corrupted with special interest funding and support, particularly from the unions, that there isn’t even a choice on the ballot other than their sock puppets.

    Ever since Marcus Foster was shot dead, OUSD has been on a collision course with hell. People like Maoist Dan Siegel and Jean Quan managed a unanimous vote of the OUSD School Board to proclaim Ebonics the “genetic” language of AAs, implying that they are incapable of speaking English as the rest of human beings because of their DNA (how’s that for the soft racism of low expectations). And their tradition has carried on through today, when the School Board President Jody London proclaims she will break the law to prevent a single new charter school from forming, and the misbehavior of out-of-control students is labeled Racial Bias from all the rest of us rather than what it is, misbehavior that must be dealt with. And never is.

  9. OaklandNative

    You misrepresented the Ebonics “controversy.” No one said it was “genetic” and no one implied that we could not learn standard English. In fact, the opposite is the case.

    The Ebonics “controversy” recognized that there were certain differences from standard English that we should be aware of. Even UC Berkeley linguist John McWhorter acknowledge that Ebonics has a lot of deviations from standard English.

    Using myself as an example. I am an Ebonics-speaking African American who studied in Oakland. My best subjects in high school were languages (I studied more than one). At first, the topic of past participles was confusing for me. However, when I approached the topic from the perspective of standard English, it was totally obvious.

    I was the only African American in an all-white class. I got the best grades. So yes, we can switch from Ebonics to standard English.

    By the way, I am not angry about the story. I look back on it and laugh even today.

  10. Oakie

    There is no needs for quotes. It was a controversy.

    It was easy to Google and find the actual OUSD Resolution, brought to you by Siegel and Quan, unanimously and enthusiastically supported by the entire School Board a short time before they navigated the district into state receivership.

    “Whereas, these studies have also demonstrated that African Language Systems are genetically-based and not a dialect of English”

    So there it is. The words are there. Ebonics is not English. It IS (according to these knuckleheads) genetically-based.

    From Wikipedia:
    “[The] decision by the Oakland School Board, which adopted a resolution to teach children “standard American English” through a specific program of respect for students’ home language and tutoring in the “code switching” required to use both standard English and Ebonics.”

    And you do realize the implications of implementation of these statements: Yes, OUSD teachers would have to start talking “Ebonics” until the AA students could learn the other language, English. And, of course, that would only be for AA students since it is genetically-based and thus the only homo sapiens inflicted with this malady.

    It would have kept The Daily Show busy for months.

    As to how McWhorter felt, again from Wikipedia:
    “Black American linguist John McWhorter argues that the use of the term does more to hinder black academic achievement than to help it, in that considering AAVE to be a completely different language from English serves only to widen the perceived divide between whites and blacks in the United States.”

    But why would OUSD listen to a linguist when they have such sages as Siegel and Quan to lead them on to paradise?

    Have you read McWhorter’s book: Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America? That self-sabotage kinda defines Oakland to a “tee.” If they make a movie of it, it would be classified in the horror section. Alas, now he has moved to New York, abandoning Oakland, and Cal for better pastures. He’s better off, and we’re worse off for it. And the beat goes on.

  11. oaklandNative


    Is your issue with Ebonics or with how the school district planned to use it?

    You provided a quote from Wilkapedia of someone’s interpretation of McWhorter’s view. The following quote is from McWhorter himself:

    “In the weeks after the Oakland School Board’s proposal came out, I interviewed with just about every media outlet in the country on Ebonics. Often, I was selectively quoted as if to say that the whole issue is absurd because Black English isn’t separate enough from standard English to justify concern.

    This is not what I have been trying to say. My feeling, in a nutshell, is simply that the Oakland school board misidentifies the reason for black students’ failure in attributing it, in any significant way, to the difference between the dialects. Black children fail because:

    Inner city backgrounds do not prepare many children to be receptive to education in school;

    The schools are under funded and often awful;

    Reading is not taught properly in many schools period, compounding the ill effects of the above.

    These are the problems which must be addressed with money and study.

    I have no problem with taking Black English into account in schools. But when this goes as far as translation exercises or textbooks in Black English, I am opposed. This is because:

    Because translation between these close dialects is not the problem, doing this would be like trying to put out a house fire with an eyedropper. Sure, it might do some tiny, insignificant good here and there but WHILE IT WAS DOING THIS —

    It would make black kids look stupid, as if they were incapable of making the two-inch jump between such close dialects while kids in Brooklyn, Appalachia and white Mississippi do it without comment (or — if they fail in school, dialect is not thought to be the reason).”

    As you see, Wilkapedia seems to misquote McWhorter, just as he said others had done. McWhorter specifically stated that he had no problem with taking Ebonics into account. In addition, I gave you my own personal experience where I took Ebonics into account in order to improve my performance in my foreign language classes.

  12. Oakie

    Oakland Native,
    I do not believe the Wikipedia comment about McWhorter’s views contradicts in any way the direct quote (while searching, I didn’t find that direct quote, which is indeed more expansive about his views). He does, in fact, find the whole Ebonics thing a distraction that prevents taking proper action. He calls Black English a dialect, not a distinct language as defined in the resolution. And he calls it a “2 inch jump” to Standard English, just as experienced by those who grow up in certain parts of New York City which, as McWhorter says, makes black people look stupid.

    I object to Ebonics because of this. It makes black people look stupid and frail, incapable to navigate between their dialect and Standard English as experienced by people who speak all the other dialects in the US. And there are many, from New York to Appalachia. Plus, it is a distraction that avoids addressing the horrendous performance gap of AA students in Oakland. Plus, I am more than suspicious that the real reason for the whole episode had everything to do with wheedling extra free money for the district by imitating the real difficulties students with English as a second language experience. It’s just plain dishonesty, and that is appalling. Plus, I have zero faith that if OUSD did manage to get extra funding for this deception that it would be used wisely at all.

  13. OaklandNative


    McWhorter says “Often, I was selectively quoted as if to say that the whole issue is absurd because Black English isn’t separate enough from standard English to justify concern . . .This is not what I have been trying to say.” He also says “I have no problem with taking Black English into account in schools.”

    In contrast, your Wilkapedia quote opened: “Black American linguist John McWhorter argues that the use of the term does more to hinder black academic achievement than to help it,”

    From an African American perspective, I agree with McWhorter. I disagree with the Wilkapedia’s “interpretation. They are not saying the same thing.

    I mentioned to you how my awareness of Ebonics helped me in my foreign language studies. It was an “aha” moment. It did not make the difference between my getting an “A” or not. In fact, it was kind of humorous.

    As far as white people thinking Black people “look frail and stupid.” Don’t blame Ebonics for that stereotype. I have sat quiety in a room of white people and many had the same assumption.

    Years ago, an African American friend of mine was trying to impress some white men. He was in college, so he talked about his being in college. The white men had the audacity to “compare” us saying I seemed to be unambitious and going nowhere. I didn’t talk about collebe.

    My friend and I laughed. I had already graduated from college. I simply was not interested in the conversation or the men.

  14. OaklandNative

    Oakie wrote: “I object to Ebonics because of this. It makes black people look stupid and frail, incapable to navigate between their dialect and Standard English as experienced by people who speak all the other dialects in the US.”

    When I’m with my friends (many of whom are Ivy-League educated), we speak Ebonics.

    I like the way Ebonics sound. I also like the sense of bonding. It’s fun. Sometimes, you can say something in Ebonics that just don’t sound the same in standard English.

    While someone from outside may think we’re “stupid and frail,” that’s because they don’t understand or don’t fit in. That’s not my concern.

    BTW, I think that standard English is spoken enough on television that many young African Americans know the difference. Some may choose not to use it. Others may need to be educated on the differences between standard English and Ebonics.

    But if someone thinks we’re stupid and frail, I think Ebonics just supports their stereotypes.

  15. Oakie

    I did not mean the dialect, I meant the framing of the OUSD resolution rhetoric of defining Ebonics as a distinct language, “genetically-based.” The idea that AA’s dialect is not a “2 inch jump” but rather THE barrier to academic achievement is what makes black people appear too stupid to overcome. As I said, it was a cynical subterfuge used by Toni Cook and Dan Siegel and Jean Quan, et. al. to obtain a pot of money that they would control, and if it made AAs look stupid they frankly didn’t give a damn.

  16. OaklandNative

    Oakie wrote: “and if it made AAs look stupid they frankly didn’t give a damn.”

    Look stupid to whom?

    By the way, many linguist have theorized that Black English is not a “dialect.” It has its own regular structure, etc. So the argument that it “genetically-based” has been argued by several linguists.

    Though I do agree that acknowledging or legitimizing Ebonics would not solve all the problems in the schools.


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