by JR Valrey, Black New World Media
The Black Organizing Project has been a frontline community organization in Oakland for over a decade, and they recently have led the people to victory in the fight to eliminate the Oakland Police Department from the public school system. In 2000, Oakland School Board president Dan Siegel proposed a vote that brought the Oakland police into the school district to police the students.
In 2011, Raheim Brown was murdered by an armed campus cop while he sat outside of the Skyline High prom with his date. And it took until June of 2020 for the people in this town, under the leadership of the Black Organizing Project, to eliminate the hired guns around our children that the School Board implemented in the year 2000. It was a historic victory that Oakland should savor.
Jasmine Williams, the communications and development manager for the Black Organizing Project sat down to talk about the way forward in the fight against police terror in Oakland. Here she is, in her own words.
JR Valrey: How and when did the Black Organizing Project start?
Jasmine Williams: The Black Organizing Project (BOP) is a Black member-led community organization working for racial, social and economic justice through grassroots organizing and community-building in Oakland, California, and across the Bay Area. In 2009, BOP was founded in response to the need for more organizing infrastructure in Black communities and the critical need to create safe Black space.
Since our founding, BOP has engaged and activated thousands of community members through leadership development, political education and community building. BOP is 11 years old and a multigenerational organization which means youth, elders and the entire family are able to engage and work as a collective to institute long-term change.
JR Valrey: When did the Black Organizing Project pick up the “Get the OPD Out of the Schools” campaign? How long was that fight?
Jasmine Williams: In 2011, our membership decided to launch our first and continued campaign, Bettering Our School System (BOSS). Our BOSS campaign was formed as a response to the criminalization, mass incarceration and murder by police of Black and Brown boys and men.
The murder of a young man in 2011 by school police on campus ignited our members to take on the issue of police in schools. BOSS is redirecting the school to prison pipeline toward investments in approaches that provide a supportive environment for learning, future success, safety and well-being of students.
We are trying to change the narrative that safety is created by increased policing, surveillance and military weapons in schools and communities. We want to change the way that schools engage with students and parents. We believe that the work we do in schools is also part of the larger work of shifting away from the prison industrial complex and supporting what some would call beloved community.
When we first started our campaign nearly 10 years ago OPD was on the campuses through contracts as well as security and the district’s internal police department. Our call for police-free schools then and now is about schools completely free of law enforcement – in which we saw not only the elimination of OPD contracts but the abolition of the entire internal department as a necessary step in repairing years of harm. We launched the campaign during a time where the police-free schools conversation wasn’t mainstream and folks were more comfortable with reform.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about the recent win that the Black Organizing Project helped the people to secure in getting the OPD out of the schools? What did it feel like to finally have the work that y’all put into that campaign pay off?
Jasmine Williams: We are happy that being committed to 10 years of organizing around a controversial issue that centers Black folks as leaders and changemakers has paid off – and has really been a victory for us all. We understand that when Black families and students win, we all win, which is why we have made it our duty since our inception to boldly push folks to reimagine safety despite the naysayers.
On June 24, Oakland School Board voted unanimously to eliminate the OUSD Police Department. After fighting for a different version of the resolution just months before in March at a School Board meeting, and after the murder of George Floyd, which reignited Oakland to support our call to pressure the School Board to vote on the right side of history, we found the momentum necessary to give the board yet another chance to listen to demands of the community – and Black families in particular.
We hope that the community stays engaged and interested as we move forward and are happy to continue the legacy of our ancestors and freedom fighters before us.
Through this win, we saw a humbling display of support from Oakland, community allies and partners and community in general, who said “enough is enough” and unite under one issue. Following the loss in March, we intentionally worked with Director Torres to draft the resolution and ensure that no harm to students and families was indicated in the policy.
This moment is a culmination of years of organizing, hard fought advocacy, youth and family leadership and community work. It feels great but we understand that the work continues and that implementation is another beast. We hope that the community stays engaged and interested as we move forward and are happy to continue the legacy of our ancestors and freedom fighters before us.
JR Valrey: Is the Black Organizing Project working on the Defund OPD campaign in Oakland? If so, can you give us an update as to what is going on? Are there any important dates that we should know about?
Jasmine Williams: Through supporting the Defund OPD campaign, we stand in solidarity against the militarization and policing of Black and Brown communities and are in coalition with community partners committed to holding those in power accountable against continuing to create schools and communities that target Black and Brown youth and families.
As a response to the OPD police chief using our George Floyd Resolution as a means to justify an increase in the city budget, we have been called to examine how the city – and system – will continue to revert back if the community is not pushing back and potentially harm our recent progress. Police-free schools for us includes city police – and we are committed to ensuring that the city doesn’t respond by impeding on a model that can lead the nation and the state to a future. We recently spoke at the City Council meeting in support of Councilmember Bas’ resolution that calls for the creation of a task force.
JR Valrey: What’s next for the Black Organizing Project now that y’all got that campaign off of your plate?
Jasmine Williams: Elimination of the school police department was a demand in our campaign. We plan to continue to work through our BOSS Campaign to see the transformation of school climate and overall culture within OUSD.
Moving forward for the next two-three years, we are stepping into implementation. This will center around a BOP-led collective community process that will engage community stakeholders to create a safety plan that is centered in support rather than suppression.
The implementation of our People’s Plan will be a three-phase plan to transform OUSD through 1) development of a community process that includes key stakeholders, 2) implementation of alternative models, 3) organizing community listening sessions and accountability spaces, 4) bench marks and public report back and 5) evaluation of the transformation and report generated.
We hope to:
- Stop harm such as reduction in police calls and referrals to law enforcement.
- End partnerships or contracts with probation or any law enforcement agencies.
- Training and development of the concept of Black Sanctuary.