Buffalo Rebellion Community Call: Des Moines Black Liberation

I am so glad to be part of the Buffalo Rebellion
(See: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/buffalo-rebellion/ )

Last night we had a Community Call via Zoom to reflect on the past year, hear updates of work being done, and what the future might hold.

The main accomplishments of this year were

Using Zoom breakout rooms, we got to know each other better and hear what work we are each doing. I talked about being involved in Des Moines Mutual Aid, and that I’ve been talking about this in our Quaker meeting. That I hoped more people of faith would become involved in Mutual Aid. There were only two other people in our breakout room. One said he had attended Quaker meeting in Connecticut, and the other said this resonated with her.

Des Moines Black Liberation Collective

1. Removal of armed school resource officers from Des Moines Public Schools

Jaylen Cavil of Des Moines Black Liberation Collective (https://www.desmoinesblm.org/) reported on something I hadn’t known about, getting police out of schools. From my time in the Kheprw Institute community in Indianapolis, I knew how children of color and their parents distrust and fear the police. It was an awful thing to bring the police into the schools. The school to prison pipeline is a horrible situation and Des Moines Black Liberation Collective (Des Moines BLM) was recently about to get “school resource officers” (SRO) out of the public schools.

Before the pandemic, armed officers known as ​“school resource officers,” or SROs, from the Des Moines Police Department would patrol the school hallways. But during the summer of racial justice marches and protests after the police murder of George Floyd, students, parents and community members spoke out against SROs at Des Moines School Board meetings. In the end, the police contract with the schools was terminated. After scrambling to make remote schooling work during the long, mournful slog of the pandemic, Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) were left to find a way to reimagine school safety — and fast.

The district moved quickly to implement restorative practices, an increasingly popular educational model for school safety, violence prevention and mediation. 

The 2021 – 2022 school year was a huge opportunity with the highest of stakes: DMPS could become one of the only districts in the nation to succeed in concurrently removing SROs and implementing restorative practices, or the district and its students could be thrown into crisis.

The City That Kicked Cops Out of Schools and Tried Restorative Practices Instead. Here’s what happens when a school rethinks punishment by ANDY KOPSA, In These Times, DECEMBER 12, 2022

Vanessa says she sometimes asks to go to the ​“Think Tank,” a designated area created by RP staff for kids who violate school rules. While in the Think Tank as a punishment, students cannot talk, have outside meals or snacks and must turn off electronics. But the Think Tank can also be a respite; for Vanessa, it’s a safe space to deal with the anxiety that drove her to wander the halls.

“I would get overwhelmed and then I would ask to go to the Think Tank so I was able to do my work,” Vanessa says. ​“And Mr. Musa had snacks.” The snacks made a lasting impression.

When I drop by Roosevelt’s Think Tank with Mr. Musa, eight kids have opted to be there in lieu of suspension. Two girls are there because of a scuffle in the bathroom, though they say they were bystanders. Then there are a couple hallway roamers and two boys caught vaping.

In the Think Tank, students are required to do school work. In many cases, that’s a back catalog of assignments and writing about what they did, how it made them feel and how they might handle it differently in the future.

The subtle, important difference between the Think Tank and traditional in-school suspension, according to Jake Troja, DMPS director of school climate, is that students are there by choice. In the past, the message from the school district to students was, ​“You have a suspension, that’s it,” he says. Now, RP staff have a new message: ​“We’d love [for students] to be in class, but we can’t do that, so here’s another option.”

“It’s about power and authority,” Troja says.

The district asked for reform — such as installing ununiformed and unarmed officers in schools — but the Des Moines police department responded, in February 2021, with a surprise termination of the contract. Sgt. Paul Parizek, Des Moines police public information officer, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Des Moines schools had already begun training teachers in restorative practices in 2018. With the $750,000 saved from the broken contract, the school district funded 20 new positions and hired specially trained RP staff across the city’s five public high schools. The district even invited Sellers and other students to observe the hiring process, and students picked up on red flags that staff missed, Sellers tells me, like candidates who called students ​“delinquents.”

The City That Kicked Cops Out of Schools and Tried Restorative Practices Instead. Here’s what happens when a school rethinks punishment by ANDY KOPSA, In These Times, DECEMBER 12, 2022

2. Prison letter writing and abolition

Jaylen talked about Des Moines BLM’s support of Central Iowa Democratic Socialist of America’s (DSA) prison letter writing project. This is something I’ve been involved with in several ways. Jade, my friend from Des Moines Mutual Aid is the organizer for this project that a number of us from DMMA participate in. https://landbackfriends.com/2021/11/28/prison-abolition-letter-writing-project/

I am writing to you as a part of the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of American prison abolition group. I am inviting you to join our solidarity and pen-pal network. We are connecting with people incarcerated in Iowa because we believe the struggles of people both inside and outside of prison walls are intertwined. Specifically, we recognize the need to eliminate systemic injustices produced by the current criminal justice system.

Please let me know if you are interested in taking part in this project. I would love to receive any information from you so that we can make a case to those on the outside to take action on the demands of incarcerated people.

We are the Central Iowa chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Promoting the concept of democratic socialism through political action, direct service, and education. We are building for the future beyond resistance.

Quakers for Abolition Network

My blog made it possible for one of my new friends, Jed Walsh, to contact me about the work he and Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge are doing related to abolition of police and prisons. I wrote a little in their article that was published by the Western Friend, https://westernfriend.org/article/quakers-abolition-network.

3. Des Moines BLM and Des Moines Mutual Aid

Jaylen also spoke about the collaboration of Des Moines BLM with Des Moines Mutual Aid. Mutual Aid is the alternative to the capitalist system that drains all the resources that should be invested in our people and communities. That houselessness is by design because those in power want us to feel desperate, so we can’t focus on change.

He told of the City of Des Moines periodically razing the houseless camps, which served no good purpose because they are rebuilt shortly after. Last year it cost about $30,000 to provide propane and heaters for those in the camps. Funds for this purpose are behind now.

Information about camper support and to make donations can be found here: https://iowamutualaid.org/camper-support


4. Demands for the Department of Corrections

Help uplift demands from individuals incarcerated at Anamosa State Penitentiary https://linktr.ee/demandsfordoc

Jaylen asked us to send emails to the DoC to support the demands of incarcerated individuals.

In subsequent posts I’ll report on the other work that was presented at this Buffalo Rebellion Community Call last night.

You can read more about these issues in the Iowa Mutual Aid publication, We Gather Here in Disservice of the State


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