Minneapolis Teachers Union, Cops Battle Over Student Recruitment

Minneapolis, MN – A Minneapolis Public Schools teacher talked to Unicorn Riot about the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) newly created PEACE Recruitment Program and the teachers union’s recent decision to oppose it.

“The police are desperate now and they’re coming for our kids.”

Minneapolis Public School Teacher and Union Member Jessica Garraway

Minneapolis North High School Special Education teacher and union board member at-large Jessica Garraway brought the idea to the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT59) to oppose the MPD’s PEACE Recruitment Plan targeting high school students. She helped draft a resolution and bring it to the body for a vote. 

Garraway, a police abolitionist, participated in the Lake Street protests outside of the Third Precinct in the days following George Floyd’s murder by officer Derek Chauvin. She told Unicorn Riot that cops around the country are in a “crisis of legitimacy, especially in Minneapolis,” where she notes that the department is down a third in numbers with struggling retention rates since Floyd’s murder. 

MinnPost recently reported that there were 602 sworn officers, down from 900 in May 2020. The activist educator cites that as an “achievement won by the movement” following Floyd’s murder. 

On Dec. 16, 2022, MFT59 passed Garraway’s resolution opposing the MPD’s high school student recruitment program. This comes more than two years after the Minneapolis School Board voted to end its contract with MPD and take school resource officers (SROs) out of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) following the murder of Floyd by former MPD officer Chauvin. 

The following is an excerpt from the press release by MFT59: 

“The Minneapolis Police Department has a known track record of abuses [against] people of color, highlighted especially by the killing of Black men like George Floyd, Winston Smith and Jamar Clark in the communities in which we serve. Also, in past youth recruitment efforts like the Minneapolis [Explorers] Program, youth have reported being exposed to a racist and sexist environment where sexual [harassment] was also reported.” 

Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, Local 59, Teacher Chapter

Although most MFT59 board members are not abolitionists, Garraway said the decision to oppose the PEACE program was clear for her colleagues. 

“I think most people can see the rot in the MPD. People lost faith in law enforcement. Their whole job is to push people out of their homes and communities. And folks are waking up to that. People now question before they call 911.” 

Jessica Garraway, Special Ed. Teacher, MFT Board Member At-Large 

Photo courtesy Jessica Garraway.

The Minneapolis Police Department, at the direction of the Community Safety Work Group appointed by Mayor Frey, has put forward a program to help diversify the force. The department’s PEACE Recruitment Plan is a paid internship for Minneapolis high school students to learn about and work with the MPD in efforts to serve as a professional pathway into law enforcement careers for students of color. 

According to the City of Minneapolis’ website

“The PEACE Recruitment Plan provides participants paid part-time employment to learn about public safety and the value of serving their community. Internships can be a recruiting tool allowing potential recruits to experience more facets of the profession thereby being able to evaluate their interest early in the process.”

The City of Minneapolis 

The 21 member Community Safety Work Group chaired by civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong released their report in June 2022. The work group recommended increasing sworn officers to 888 by “building a pipeline of future candidates who live in the city of Minneapolis.” One primary strategy to accomplish this is by partnering police with MPS to “create a K-12 public safety career pathway program,” and provide support for “career fairs, field trips, and mentorship opportunities, to expose children to careers in public safety.” 

Kaytie Kamphoff, an English teacher at Patrick Henry High School and co-author of the resolution opposing the recruitment program, noted the irony of the City of Minneapolis investing in a police pathway program for Black and Brown students before adequately funding its teacher pathway program. 

“A better ‘community pipeline’ [would] be…fully funding teacher pathway programs in community high schools with large populations of Black, Latinx, Hmong, Somali and Indigenous students,” Kamphoff told the Southside Pride newspaper.  

Teachers say MPD are too dangerous to work with children and students have repeatedly demanded that police not be employed inside schools. In April 2022 the Minnesota Department of Human Rights released a scathing report establishing “A pattern or practice of discrimination” by Minneapolis police against Black residents. The report laid out sweeping human rights violations by MPD, including murder, non-lethal brutality, harassment, spying, retaliation, and widespread use of racial slurs. 

The report confirmed that it wasn’t a few “bad apples.” 

“MPD’s data demonstrates significant racial disparities with respect to officers’ use of force, traffic stops, searches, citations, and arrests. MPD officers used covert social media to surveil Black individuals and Black organizations, unrelated to criminal activity…”

Minnesota Department of Human Rights, Investigation into the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department

Kamphoff, also an abolitionist, takes exception to officials overlooking MPD’s history of violence while putting forward the recruitment program for high school students. “It is wild that Mayor Frey is asking our Black and Brown youth to engage and then enter a system that has systematically harmed their bodies, minds, and souls.”  

Garraway said it doesn’t make sense that an organization with such a violent track record is allowed to work with vulnerable populations such as kids, noting that officers who “maimed and murdered” people are still on the force today. “MPD made international news for its human rights violations against Black residents,” she said, “and now we’re turning our kids over to them…” 

North Minneapolis filmmaker and abolitionist D.A. Bullock tweeted his outrage about the program, claiming that nothing has changed with the department since Floyd’s murder. 

“$740k to pilot a law enforcement internship for high school students as a recruiting tool for MPD – this should inrage [sic] you. Your $ paying to recruit students into an organization that has not evolved or improved in one measurable way since May 25, 2020.” D.A. Bullock

In June 2020 the Saint Paul School Board followed the lead of Minneapolis and passed a similar resolution ending its contract with the Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD), removing seven SROs from Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS). 

However, the murder of Saint Paul Harding High School student Devin Scott who was recently stabbed to death at school has SPPS officials reevaluating their partnership with police. According to MPR News, after Scott’s killing, Superintendent Joe Gothard said that he wants “to see if we can redefine what a formal partnership looks like…” 

Saint Paul School Board Commissioner Chauntyll Allen fired back on Facebook, “An SRO with a new name is still a killer cop,” citing the recent killing of Yia Xiong in his home by Saint Paul police only weeks ago. Read Unicorn Riot’s coverage of Xiong’s killing here.

On Feb. 8, Minneapolis North High School Principal Mauri Friestleben sent out a letter to families revealing that a student “brandished a gun at another student” that day and that the building went into lockdown. A staff member intervened and police were called but the student with the gun fled before cops arrived.  

Garraway believes it is a convenient time for cops to reclaim their presence and regain power in public schools. She warns, “When violence takes place in our schools, it is a prime opportunity for police to get back in our buildings and re-establish their legitimacy… at a moment when it’s at an all time low.” 

Conservatives didn’t waste time attacking teachers. The local “lightning rod” police union responded to MFT, not withholding its animosity for educators. As reported by the right-wing media outlet Alpha News, The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis said:

It is shameful that the very people tasked with ‘educating’ our youth are actively trying to stymie efforts to provide employment and educational opportunities to their students. Instead of rallying against efforts to diversify the police department and provide opportunities for their students, perhaps [MFT59] should focus on how to improve their dismal test scores and plummeting enrollment.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis

The conservative think tank Center of the American Experiment wrote a hit piece about MFT59 accusing the teachers of pushing their own agenda not rooted in the interests of their students. 

“MFT59’s effort to oppose this police recruitment…is unwise, out of touch with its base, and ultimately self-serving. It reveals a blatant hypocrisy that exists within the teacher’s union leadership that puts its priorities above that of its students and the community.” 

Center of the American Experiment

Twitter account Crime Watch Mpls, which is run by right-wing activist ​​Shelley Leeson, bashed MFT59 on Twitter and called Minneapolis Public Schools “hate camps.” “Always room for one more hypocrite,” she tweeted two days after the teacher’s statement went public. 

“[MFT59] bitches because cops aren’t from the community while at the same time opposing efforts to recruit people from the community to become police officers. Get your kids out of these hate camps.” – Shelley Leeson, Crime Watch Mpls

Backlash against local teachers comes at a time when educators across the country are under attack for teaching content that highlights systemic racism throughout American history, which has been labeled “woke” or “critical race theory” (CRT) by conservative ideologues. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely Republican presidential prospect for 2024, has recently banned AP Black Studies courses in high schools across the state. Other states including Arkansas, North Dakota, Mississippi and Virginia are looking into following Florida’s lead.

Garraway believes the attack against Black history and so-called ‘CRT’ is directly connected to the recruitment of Black students to “join their ranks” as cops. She said young people learning about structural racism and the ways of the world is one of the greatest threats to power. 

“Without youth buying in, [law enforcement’s] entire existence is in question. And that’s why Black history is seen as a threat to this country in the way that abolition is.”  

Jessica Garraway

After the murder of Tyre Nichols by mostly Black police officers in Memphis, the abolitionist educator sees even more people considering a world without police. 

“I think more than any other event in a while, [Tyre’s murder] has highlighted that Black people can also perpetuate white supremacy and that policing itself is the issue.”

Jessica Garraway

Marjaan Sirdar is a South Minneapolis based freelance journalist. He is the host of the People Power Podcast and author of the investigative series, 21st Century Jim Crow in the North Star City: How Target Corp., the City of Minneapolis, and Hennepin County, Created a Domestic Spy Program That Rolled Back Civil Rights On its Black Population, published by Unicorn Riot. You can follow him on Twitter @peoplepowerpod1.

Cover image by Niko Georgiades for Unicorn Riot combines Minneapolis teacher strike image by Akičita Šuŋka-Wakaŋ Ska and MPD recruiting image posted to the department’s social media feeds.

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