Superintendent Ramon Cortines
Los Angeles Unified School District
333 South Beaudry Ave., 24th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Dear Superintendent Cortines:
We have received your letter dated January 13, 2015 regarding the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) continued participation in the Department of Defense (DOD) 1033 Program and your continued possession of lethal military weapons acquired by the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) through this program. While we disagreed with it from the outset, we have been in discussions with many students, parents, teachers, community residents, and board members to further clarify our views. Over the past months, we have sent several letters of correspondence to you and the LAUSD Board of Education; given public comment on this subject at several LAUSD board meetings; and turned in thousands of signed petitions urging LAUSD to end its participation in the 1033 Program. We have attached copies of our mutual correspondence so that we all have a common factual record.
We continue to urge you and the LAUSD Board of Education to take the necessary action to:
1) Immediately withdraw the District’s participation in the Department of Defense 1033 program
2) Call on President Obama to end the entire DOD 1033 Program
3) Destroy or dismantle all military grade equipment obtained by the LASPD: specifically the documented 61 M-16 assault rifles
4) Make a complete inventory of LASPD’s military equipment and weaponry acquired throughout your enrollment in the 1033 Program
5) Document all weaponry currently in LASPD’s possession
6) Write to other school boards calling on them to discontinue their participation in the 1033 Program
7) Work with us to call on the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department (LASD) to immediately withdraw from the 1033 Program and to destroy their military weapons obtained through the DOD 1033 Program— in that LAUSD students and our Black and Latino communities are subject to the jurisdictions of those departments as well.
In short, we completely disagree with the tone, content, and arguments stated in your letter. It did not even acknowledge that we are talking about the Department of Defense 1033 Program; it did not name specifically the weapons that LASPD still has in its possession. We strongly reject your defense of the District’s participation in the DOD 1033 program, which gives military grade weapons to police departments all over the country including the Los Angeles School Police Department and your assertion that the District is retaining the 61 M-16 assault rifles obtained through this program. What is profoundly troubling to us is that after working with the LAUSD and LASPD on several important reforms of police policy and practices there is dismissal of our deeper concerns about the entire system of policing of our communities. There is an implied view that despite our continued explanation that far more radical and structural changes are needed that you believe that the problem is over and any further changes can be dismissed out of hand.
To be clear, at present the LAUSD and LASPD are part of the DOD 1033 Program. Your participation gives moral legitimacy to the entire program—weapons which are also in the possession of the LA County Sheriff Department, Los Angeles Police Department, but also the Maricopa County Sheriff and Feguson Police Departments. Recent information released to the public shows that the LAPD has amassed over 1,600 M-16 assualt rifles, a military truck, military cargo plane and helipcotper; while the LA Sheriff has over 1,000 M-16 assualt rifles, 2 MRAP tanks, and 62 mine detectors, all through the DOD 1033 program. This goes beyond a disagreement over “policy” to one of values, civil and human rights—for in essence your letter is justifying a state of military and political siege of our students, parents, and Black and Latino communities. We call on you to reverse this view and these policies.
In your response to our concerns, you state:
“Strict policy and procedure guidelines remain in place for accountability of all equipment, with a review process that evaluates the deployment and use of any such equipment. Currenty, the LASPD does NOT possess any military-donated vehicles, launchers or items recognizable as, and exclusively for military use. All current weapons and firearms deployed in the field by the LASPD are standard law-enforcement issued models that have not been received or procured through a military equipment donation.”
We have no doubt that your stated police policy is “consistent” with industry standards and those of other police departments such as the LAPD and LASD. That is the core of the problem. The industry standards are those of community suppression—otherwise why are LAPD, LASD, and LASPD involved in every aspect of a student’s life. As we stated in our Black, Brown and OverPoliced in L.A. Schools, “it is a common experience in many low-income Black and Latino neighborhoods for a student to walk out their door in the morning and run a gauntlet of LAPD in their neighborhood, then LASD patrols in public transit, then LASPD and Probation at their school all day, at the front gate, in the halls, the cafeteria at lunch, in random bag searches during their classes. At the end of the day, they must pass through the same gauntlet in reverse to get home.”[ ] The level of the policing in our community is unacceptable and a form of public policy that is institutionalizing a genuine police state. When people wore t-shirts that said, “I can’t breathe” to publicize the murder of Eric Garner in New York it was also a broader metaphor that the police have our communities in a permanent choke-hold and our communities and youth “cannot breathe” in the deepest sense of the word.
From the beginning of this debate, we asked the LAUSD to give us a full inventory of all weapons in LASPD possession—the public has a right to know, debate, question, and reject it. We were informed by the media that the LAUSD transferred the MRAP tank to the Barstow Police Department and returned the three grenade launchers. But how could the District have asked for those weapons in the first place? What we can extract from your explanation is that the District is retaining the 61 M-16 rifles from the 1033 Program. But how can LAUSD’s and LASPD’s possession of 61 M-16 rifles be defended? The M-16 rifles fire 5.56×45mm NATO cartridges. The rifle entered United States Army service and was deployed for jungle warfare operations in South Vietnam in 1963. These are weapons of mass murder. The 5.56×45mm NATO cartridges can produce massive wounding effects when the bullet impacts at high speed and yaws (“tumbles”) in tissue leading to fragmentation and rapid transfer of energy.[ ][ ] This produces wounds that were so devastating that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and many countries considered the M-16 to be an inhumane weapon.[ ][ ] We will be doing presentations to parents groups, churches, and student organization so that they can understand the full implications of your decision to maintain even 1 M-16 or even one bullet and to explain the terrible, deforming, crippling, lethal force you believe LASPD deserves to own and potentially use.
In our reading of history, the expansion and militarization of urban policing was a deliberate backlash against the militancy of a Black Movement—a very orchestrated and racist ideological campaign waged by the Nixon administration with the support of many Democrats to portray Black and Latino communities as violent and inherently criminal. The war on crime, war on drugs, and war on gangs — and now, the indefensible war on “thugs and criminals”— has been a racist subterfuge to lock up Black and Latino youth for jaywalking, marijuana and alcohol possession, “resisting arrest”, “parole violation”, disorderly conduct, and loitering. It is an ideological and military response to a people’s right to protest and resist oppression and the virtual re-enactment of the Black Codes. It is shameful that the LAUSD would want any connection to these crimes against humanity and our communities. This has led to the most blatant character and actual assassination of Black youth in Los Angeles, Sanford, New York, Ferguson, Baltimore and every city in the country. We saw after the Sandy Hook shooting that the LAPD, with the support of Superintendent Deasy, authorized additional police patrols in and around elementary schools. For those who have a world view of advocating for police expansion they will consistently call for increased armed force used against unarmed communities, when in reality our communities need homes, jobs, mental health clinics, health care and a dramatic reduction in police.
In the wake of the heartbreaking and devastating increase of police shooting of civilians throughout the country and growing scrutiny of the militarization of police, we have witnessed the weapons LAUSD has in their possesion similiarly being used against protestors in the city of Baltimore. The National Guard was deployed against a people overwhelemed with feelings of grief and anger.
For these reasons, Superintendent Cortines, we believe that police must be under civilian control and must be held to the strictest limitations of any form of armed force let alone lethal force. Our long-term goal is to arm our schools with sufficient counselors and adequate resources to fully support and care for the physical, emotional and mental health of our students and the full school community. Anything short of that and we are compromising the vision for schools that are truly violence-free, healthy, and holistic.
We urge you to reject the DOD 1033 program and support our movement to end the program all together. Like the rounding up of immigrants, shooting of unarmed civilians, police brutality, and mass incarceration, the DOD 1033 program is indefensible. The LAUSD must get out of, and condemn, the DOD 1033 program now. We will urge every LAUSD board member to rise up in outrage, not compromise with injustice, to explain they agree this is long overdue. Now, is the time to do so!
We look forward to speaking with you at your earliest convenience.
Director of Organizing