As activists continue to push to have cops removed from Chicago Public Schools, dozens of current and former students took their fight to the front door of the resistant school board vice president.
The demonstration near the corner of 18th and Morgan streets in Pilsen often felt more like an end-of-summer block party, with musicians and dancers amping up the crowd while attendees wrote colorful messages in sidewalk chalk. Still, the focus remained firmly on ending CPS’ multimillion-dollar contract with Chicago police and the activists’ desire to divert that funding to other resources, like counselors and nurses.
“Youth do not need to be policed, ever,” said Tanvi Kapatral, a graduate of Whitney Young Magnet High School who helped organize the event. “We’re here to end policing everywhere.”
The protest comes a day after student activists met with Chicago Board of Education Vice President Sendhil Revuluri, who they say remains opposed to their pleas to remove all cops from schools. The group organized by Chicago Desi Youth Rising and Pilsen Alliance repeatedly called out Revuluri, at one point attempting to goad him out of his home.
In an emailed statement, Revuluri said keeping children safe is one of the district’s top priorities, adding that he’s spent the past months speaking to stakeholders about “how to make this happen effectively and equitably.”
“I look forward to working with them and others to ensure that we fulfill our responsibility to all our students to turn the slogans and energy of the moment into plans that reimagine safety and continue the district’s progress keeping students safe and learning, and eliminating their involvement with punitive discipline and the criminal justice system as soon as we can,” Revuluri said of the groups leading the demonstration.
The Board of Education voted 4-3 in June against a motion to end the police contract. But another vote is anticipated at the Aug. 26 board meeting, when CPS officials are expected to propose a revised contract for board approval.
CPS also announced a new spending plan earlier this month that includes less than half of the $33 million budgeted for police last year. A big chunk of that cash, roughly $4.5 million, was cut out of the budget because classes will be held remotely in the fall. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the more than 70 schools with cops have voted to keep them.
As police face increased scrutiny in the wake of a violent downtown protest last Saturday, the couple of bike cops tasked with monitoring the event largely remained on the sidelines as speakers and performers took shots at the department and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
In response to the mounting criticism from students, Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson announced a series of reforms Wednesday that will require officers to pass more stringent background checks and send complaints to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Karla De Jesus, a graduate of Walter Payton College Prep who organizes with Pilsen Alliance, said she was upset the announcement came after Lightfoot “sent her cops to brutalize people” at last weekend’s chaotic demonstration.
“I don’t hear any young people who are saying that we need reform,” said De Jesus, now a sophomore at Columbia College. “I hear all young people saying that we need to stop doing reforms and just defund the police, and that’s something that [Lightfoot] doesn’t want to do.”
The organizers eventually announced plans to break up the party after a final act of protest that doubled as a last ditch bit of summer fun: With N.W.A.’s “F - - - Tha Police” booming over the speakers, a young girl smacked at a pig-shaped piñata as the crowd erupted in cheers.