AFT expands anti-racism efforts, calls for separating police and schools

The AFT executive council has passed a groundbreaking resolution, “Confronting Racism and in Support of Black Lives,” that lays out 19 commitments to combat systematic racism and violence against Black people, including the separation of school safety from policing and police forces.

Black Lives Matter

The resolution states that security personnel should be trained as peace officers and integrated within the school community, with a focus on nonviolent resolution of conflicts with a minimal use of force. The AFT will reconvene a unionwide conversation—including educators, students and parents—on how to transform school security to help achieve a safe and welcoming environment for students and staff, and not a militaristic police state that has criminalized Black and brown students.

“There is a serious crisis in our society,” says AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson. “Violence against Black people cannot be normalized. People of color in America are exhausted, and we’re terrified, and we have every right to be. As civil rights activist Angela Davis said, ‘I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.’ Today, my union—the AFT—took a step in addressing things that we cannot accept.”

Protestors hold signs saying "8:46" and Black Genocide 1619-2020..."

The council resolved to support community allies that are spearheading this work, including Black Lives Matter, Color of Change and the NAACP, and committed to demilitarize policing and support national efforts to provide oversight of states through federal legislation prohibiting police brutality. This includes supporting transparent legal procedures for holding police officers accountable for misconduct and violations of law.

“We are committed to working hand in hand with community allies to address racial disparities and violence in all of our communities, including our union,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “We will continue to advocate for funding through the HEROES Act so our students have the future they deserve, and we will continue to support the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 as we reimagine a future where police serve and protect all people, not just a select few.”

The resolution comes on the anniversary of the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, S.C., and in the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, and as the union reflects on centuries of oppression of Black Americans.

“Racism didn’t start with George Floyd’s murder, and as Rayshard Brooks’ homicide made clear, it will not just end, even in the wake of these unprecedented and righteous protests,” says Weingarten. “Combating racism is everyone’s responsibility, which is what this resolution aims to do. As for schools, we must secure adequate funding to help all our students succeed academically and socially, but we must also do all we can to create safe and welcoming environments. That requires us to rethink school security starting with separating police forces from schools and ending the militarism and zero tolerance policies that have criminalized so many of our students of color.”

Youths hold signs reading "No Justice No Peace" and "Black Lives Matter"

The AFT has acted to combat racism for generations, including expelling segregated locals; this resolution multiplies our work to address all aspects of racism, starting with criminal justice and education. It encourages our state and local affiliates to participate fully in dialogues and efforts with our community partners and allies. It builds on the work of the AFT’s Racial Equity Task Force to combat anti-Blackness and its harmful effects. It calls for cultural competency and implicit bias training for our local leaders and members, to encourage a better understanding among members, students, patients and communities.

The AFT will also call on local school boards to pass and enforce anti-racist policies and encourage and support the efforts of teachers, school support staff and our affiliates to address the needs of children who experience trauma from this violence, and fight for the resources—including additional staff, like social workers, counselors, nurses and restorative justice coaches—that students and staff need.

“We are living in a time of three great crises—a health crisis, an economic recession and systemic racism, all made worse by a president who would rather tear-gas peaceful protesters for a photo op than solve the problems the protesters have raised,” says Weingarten.

“The global health pandemic is exposing and exacerbating long-standing and persistent inequities in health, education and economic security, as these murders underscore the destructive impact of systemic racism and a culture that enables white nationalism and white supremacy. As we prepare for the most consequential election season in recent history, we must remember that our activism, combined with our vote, will bring about real change. The road to equality is long, but today the AFT has recommitted to ensure that the promise of justice and liberty is a reality for all people.”

[AFT Communications Staff/photos by PL Wolfe]