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Power Up: March for Our Lives launches new campaign to defund police in schools

with Tobi Raji

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The people

FIRST IN POWER UP: March for Our Lives — the student-led activism group that formed in the wake of the 2018 school shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Fla. — is launching a coordinated, multistate campaign on Wednesday to advocate for removing police presence from schools. 

The campaign, dubbed ‘Peace without Police: Schools Need Care Not Cops’ calls for the removal and defunding of School Resource Officers (SROs) and reinvestment into counselors, mental health professionals, after school programming, and additional educational resources. 

A recent study conducted by the Violence Project shows that deaths in school shootings where an armed officer is present are more likely than when an officer isn't present.  

  • “We believe that police do not prevent, but actually cultivate, the conditions for gun violence to thrive. We can’t fight violence with more violence and expect peace. Policing is dangerous and unacceptable for children and schools. We deserve peace without police, Gaby Salazar, March for Our Lives National Organizing Director, said in a statement. 

Over a dozen March for Our Lives youth chapters across the country, including in Arizona, Colorado, and Maryland, will stage various protests throughout the day demanding that resources for policing in corresponding school districts be reallocated. 

The push by student activists comes amid their concerns that Democrats grappling with the GOP's push to portray the party as soft on crime amid a jump in violent crime ahead of the 2022 midterms are backtracking on promises to hold police accountable and keep people of color of safe, according to a spokesperson for the group. 

Mia Vesely, a high school student in Phoenix Arizona, is spearheading efforts for MFOL's campaign to target school districts across Arizona after working on a successful bid to remove resource officers from the Phoenix Union High School District last year in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. 

Vesely says that undocumented students and students of color in particular are disproportionately impacted by the presence of SROs on campus. “Schools aren't immune from issues outside in the world like police brutality — and we need to address them here first,” she said. 

  • “We just want people to know that safety is not achievable by adding more cops on campus — and it's something we've tried over and over again and it doesn't work,” Vesely told Power Up. “Kids don't feel safe… when you're at school and you're afraid, you can't learn.”

MFOL's grass-roots campaign to defund SROs is the latest example of the widening faction in the Democratic Party on the issue of crime and gun violence

Liberals and activists respond that the jump in violent crime is caused not by holding police accountable, but by the widespread availability of guns. Few jurisdictions have actually overhauled their police departments, they say, and there is no evidence that crime is higher in those that have. 

  • “Manchin & Co. be like ‘defund the police costs us elections’ while actively sabotaging our Dem agenda,” Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a former BLM activist, tweeted this month referring to Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). “Our movement was at the heart of the organizing that won us the 2020 elections. Now conservative Dems block our progress.”

But Democrats working to stem the rising tide of violent crime have been alarmed by the criticisms from Republicans portraying them as soft on crime as part of a coordinated strategy for next year’s midterm elections, my colleagues Sean Sullivan, Marianna Sotomayor and I reported last week. 

  • A post-election analysis from House Democrats concluded that the “defund the police” slogan, embraced by Black Lives Matter protesters, gave Republicans an effective weapon in the last election, even though most Democrats, including Biden, consistently rejected the message. Republicans are continuing to produce ads featuring the slogan, depicting angry protesters and blaring sirens as they seek to tie rising crime to police overhaul efforts.

In a sign of the careful balance Democratic leaders are trying to strike between independent voters and the Democratic base, President Biden delivered his first major speech on fighting crime that was paired with a heavy focus on tightening gun regulations — a top priority for liberal activists. “There is no one answer that fits everything,” Biden said.

Celinda Lake, a top pollster for Biden, argued that the issue of rising crime offers Democrats an opportunity to appeal to a public interested in tackling public safety and violence intervention differently in the wake of George Floyd's killing. She pointed to data her firm provided to the White House showing that voters are just as concerned about violence intervention and prevention as they are about rising crime rates.

  • Crime has traditionally been an issue that's worked against Democrats and for Republicans and particularly worked against women Democrats because there's a gender component, too, said Lake. But people really want to do things differently now in terms of training and combining efforts of the police with mental health and social workers.
  • “More than 6-in-10 voters (64%) say they would be more likely to reward their U.S. Senators if they support providing funds for state and local governments to implement community-based intervention services aimed at reducing gun violence,” according to Lake's research provided to Power Up.

Although there is growing nervousness in their party about the rise in violent crime, Democrats took some relief in the results of a recent special election for a House seat in New Mexico where Democrat Melanie Stansbury prevailed despite attacks from her Republican opponent seeking to tag her as hostile to police.

Pastor Michael McBride, the director of the LIVE FREE campaign, says his organization has been working with Amb. Susan Rice, the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, and the Domestic Policy Council staff to help shape the White House's messaging on issues of public safety. 

McBride criticized Democrats like Eric Adams, a candidate in New York's Democratic mayoral primary, for “weaponizing the politics of fear around crime. He warned Democrats against following suit and called for “better political leadership from Black elected officials.”

  • My biggest fear in this moment is a tough on crime national and local effort with a Black face on it It appears to me that Black elected officials run elections and govern as if they are unaware that a community based public safety approach is a winning political message and governing strategy, McBride added, pointing to India Walton, the Democratic socialist poised to become the next mayor of Buffalo after defeating the city's four-term incumbent. Walton vowed to reform the city's police department and the way police officers respond to mental health emergencies. 

Outside the Beltway

QUESTIONS AND ACCOUNTABILITY: An examination by our Post colleagues “of video and images from the deadly collapse of a high-rise apartment building outside Miami — along with interviews with structural engineers, a key witness and an investigator — deepens questions about whether existing damage to a deck in the pool area contributed to the disaster.”

  • “A resident told The Post that minutes before Champlain Towers South in Surfside came down, she noticed that a section of the pool deck and a street-level parking area had collapsed into the parking garage below.”
  • “An engineer in 2018 found ‘major structural damage’ in the pool deck area caused by what he said was a flaw that limited water drainage … The engineer, Frank P. Morabito, was hired by the condominium association to inspect the building as part of the requirement that it be recertified 40 years after construction. He said the building required timely and expensive repairs, which had not begun by the time of the disaster.”
  • How did this happen? “There is a possibility that part of the pool [area] came down first and then dragged the middle of the building with it, and that made that collapse,” Allyn E. Kilsheimer, a veteran engineer hired by Surfside to investigate the collapse, told our colleagues. “And then once the middle of the building collapsed, number two, then the rest of the building didn’t know how to stand up and it fell down also, number three.”

Accountability: “Miami's top prosecutor pledged Tuesday to have a grand jury examine last week’s collapse of an oceanfront high-rise, suggesting that even as the search continues for survivors, the focus was quickly shifting to accountability for a disaster likely to go down as one of the country’s worst,” our colleagues Lori Rozsa, Kim Bellware, Mark Berman and Griff Witte report.

  • While the announcement by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle “raised the prospect of ‘potential criminal investigations,’ she said the grand jury inquiry would be used to determine ‘what steps we can take to safeguard our residents.’”
  • “[T]his is a matter of extreme public importance, and as the State Attorney elected to keep this community safe, I will not wait,” she said in a statement.

Meanwhile, residents are filing class-action lawsuits against the condo's association. “Raysa Rodriguez, a retired postal worker, lived in Unit 907 of Champlain Towers South for 17 years. She was a few payments away from paying off her mortgage,” the Miami Herald’s David Ovalle writes. “But the dream retirement ended in the middle of the night, when a giant rumble shook her from her sleep. The building, Rodriguez wrote in a dramatic first-person account included in a newly filed lawsuit, ‘swayed like a piece of paper.’”

  • “She switched on the bedroom lamp — but there was no power. She ran to the balcony ‘and a wall of dust hit me.’”
  • “Phone calls to her neighbor, and her brother, went unanswered. Rodriguez ran into the hallway. ‘I looked left to the north end of the building. A concrete column had pierced the hallway from floor to ceiling. I looked at the elevators. The elevator shafts were exposed, the doors were gone,’ Rodriguez wrote.”
  • “When she sprinted to the stairwell exit, Rodriguez opened the door and saw a scene out of an apocalypse movie. ‘The beachside of Champlain had collapsed, pancaked,’ she wrote. ‘I screamed in horror.’”

What we’re watching: “With the possibility of a busy hurricane season, which has seen four named storms, and a massive rescue operation at the Surfside condominium collapse, rescue crews could be caught in the middle of two disasters,” the Miami Herald’s Martin Vassolo and Devoun Cetoute report.

The investigations

HAPPENING TODAY: “The House is poised to launch a new investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection with expected approval of a 13-person select committee to probe the violent attack,” our colleague Mary Clare Jalonick reports.

  • “In a memo to all House Republicans late Tuesday, No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise (La.) urged his members to vote against the resolution, saying the select panel ‘is likely to pursue a partisan agenda’ in investigating the siege by Trump’s supporters. Scalise and McCarthy have so far declined to say whether Republicans will even participate.”

On the Hill

FAMILY FEUD: “Congressional Democrats are laboring this week to preserve their party's fragile peace on an increasingly fraught infrastructure strategy,” Politico's Sarah Ferris and Nicholas Wu write.

  • “As President Biden scrambles to keep his bipartisan deal with Senate Republicans alive, Democrats are working behind the scenes to mollify their more restive members and present a united front in a critical stretch for his agenda.”
  • “Moderates are worried about too much spending in a second, one-party bill, while progressives are worried about too little spending — and senior Democrats are caught in the middle.”
  • “The brewing fight is exposing cracks in the party’s fragile strategy for enacting its economic plans,” the New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman reports.

A Wisconsin-Washington split screen. As Biden touted the bipartisan plan in Wisconsin Tuesday, “White House officials back in Washington were busy blitzing members of Congress from across the political spectrum, hosting a flurry of calls and meetings aimed at building support for the plan and assuaging anxieties in both parties,” our colleagues Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim report.

  • “Tuesday’s split screen signaled the start of a challenging new phase of Biden’s push to enact a sweeping investment in the country's infrastructure and make good on his promise of bipartisanship in the post-Trump era.”

The campaign

NYC’S MAYORAL TWISTS AND TURNS: “The New York City Board of Elections accidentally included results from a mock trial of the city’s new ranked-choice voting system in unofficial primary returns released Tuesday — a snafu that threw the election process into chaos,” Politico’s Joe Anuta and David Giambusso report.

  • “Tallies released Tuesday afternoon indicated that Kathryn Garcia had come within 2.2 points of leading Democratic candidate Eric Adams after ranked-choice tabulations were processed. But, shortly after the results were released, reporters and campaign staffers noticed there were roughly 135,000 more votes counted than those reported on election night.”
  • “Three hours after releasing the numbers, the Board of Elections issued a statement acknowledging a ‘discrepancy’ and subsequently took down the totals from their website.”
  • “After 10 p.m. Tuesday, the board finally came clean with a statement: The ‘test’ ballots were never cleared out of the tabulation system and thus added the additional votes into the total, skewing the numbers. The board said that it has removed all of the erroneous ballots from the count and will rerun the results — though when the new rankings will be ready was still unclear.”

“The extraordinary sequence of events seeded further confusion about the outcome, and threw the closely watched contest into a new period of uncertainty at a consequential moment for the city,” the New York Times’ Katie Glueck writes.

  • “For the Board of Elections, which has long been plagued by dysfunction and nepotism, this was its first try at implementing ranked-choice voting on a citywide scale. Skeptics had expressed doubts about the board’s ability to pull off the process.”

Global power

ALL EYES ON TIGRAY: “Tensions between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government in Addis Ababa and leaders from the country’s northern Tigray region entered a new phase this week, as rebels seized Mekele, the regional capital, and government forces fled,” our colleagues Adam Taylor and Siobhán O'Grady report.

  • “A day after retaking the capital, rebel forces have indicated they have little appetite for a truce — threatening to drag out the brutal eight-month-long civil war that has embroiled the Horn of Africa nation,” the New York Times’ Abdi Latif Dahir and Simon Marks report.
  • “Getachew Reda, a senior Tigrayan leader, said that Tigray’s forces would not hesitate to enter Eritrea, and even try to advance toward its capital, if that is what it would take to keep Eritrean troops from attacking again. And he claimed that in recent days, Tigrayan forces had killed many Ethiopian troops and militia fighters, and took more prisoners.”
  • “We want to degrade as many enemy capabilities as possible,” he said in a telephone interview with the New York Times. “We are still in hot pursuit so that enemy forces will not pose a threat to our Tigray in any way.”

“The conflict in Tigray has cast a pall over Abiy’s presidency, in the wake of his 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for domestic reform and forging peace with neighboring Eritrea,” per Taylor and O’Grady.

  • “In the ensuing crisis, rights groups reported massacres that left hundreds of people dead as tens of thousands fled as refugees to neighboring Sudan amid fears of a full-blown civil war.”
  • “United Nations agencies said this month that the conflict had contributed to conditions that saw more than 350,000 people in Tigray suffering famine conditions, while millions more were at risk.”