"Of course the real mastermind behind the abolish the police agenda is none other than organizer Eric Mann, the director of the Labor Community Strategy Center, self-proclaimed Communist and mentor to Patrisse Khan-Cullors, one of the three founders of the Black Lives Matter organization."
- Gilbert Gamez, President of the LASPOA
Gilbert Gamez straddles two worlds.
As the leader of a union, Gamez is a direct beneficiary of sacrifices made by those who fought for social justice. Labor activists of the past endured opposition that was often violent as they fought for the right to organize. Many paid with their lives. The working conditions that we take for granted today, like weekends off, the 40-hour workweek, and breaks during the workday directly result from their efforts.
The group Gamez represents are police officers, who tend to be more right-wing than their compatriots in other unions. When "violence and mass arrests [were used] to break the will of strikers", it was at the hands of law enforcement. Their professional descendants were on the streets this summer, committing acts of violence against peaceful protesters demanding an end to militaristic policing and systemic racism.
In a speech during the LAUSD School Board meeting last week, Gamez threw out any allegiance to the labor movement that gave his union the ability to exist. While speaking out against the defund the police movement that has resulted in a $25 million cut from the district's policing budget, the president of the Los Angeles School Police Officers Association (LASPOA) directly attacked Eric Mann, a labor organizer who had fought to delay the closing of the General Motors plant in Van Nuys. The Trump boogeymen of "socialism", "Marxism" and "communism" were sprinkled throughout the speech.
Most surprising, Gamez showed little understanding of the political realities of the school board. While he was spewing venom against United Teachers Los Angeles, three of the four board members that teachers supported during elections voted against the proposal that removed funding for the officers that he represents. The block of charter school industry supporters are the ones that introduced a resolution that called for drastic cuts in the policing budget. After compromising with Jackie Goldberg on a lower cut, the measure passed.
Instead of throwing around right-wing fear tactics, the LASPOA would have been much better off focusing on the concerns that had caused board members Scott Schmerelson, George McKenna, and Richard Vladovic to vote against immediately reducing the funding. The charter school block of Kelly Gonez, Nick Melvoin, and Monica Garcia ignored their responsibility to ensure continued student safety and rushed to pass the cuts without a fully formulated plan that would have specified exactly how they would be implemented. The board had previously directed Superintendent Beutner to present a plan to reduce the footprint of the LASPD, but the charter school block pushed ahead before this could be completed. This lack of a plan is what the school police should have focused on.
The students of the second-largest school district in the country deserve better than what either the LASPOA or the district is offering them. Students Deserve's demands are borne from well-founded concerns and they should not be ignored. However, as the adults in charge, the board ignored its responsibility to implement the requested changes in a responsible way. Everyone needs to step back from the rhetoric deployed by Gamez and put the needs of the students first.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.