Teachers’ union officials denounce police at Oklahoma symposium

August 3, 2021

Ray Carter

Several speakers at the Oklahoma Aspiring Educators Association’s recent Racial and Social Justice Symposium encouraged the next generation of state teachers to view police and school-security officers as tools of white supremacy.

“Police were brought into schools—have always been brought into schools—as a way to oppress, suppress, beat, and harm our black, indigenous, and students of color—historically, always,” said Erika Chavarria, an NEA Social Justice Activist finalist for 2017.

Chelsie Joy Acosta, another NEA Social Justice Activist finalist in 2017, declared that individuals convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison have been forced into “modern-day slavery.”

Terry Jess, a third NEA Social Justice Activist finalist in 2017, told Oklahoma Aspiring Educators Association members that teachers who call for help from school security often do so because they “interpret things through our own lens of whiteness.”

“What I constantly hear from educators is, ‘I felt threatened. That’s why I escalated things. That’s why I called,’” Jess said. “And that goes into what your perceptions are of who you’re looking at, right, of our black students, of our indigenous students. What are you expecting from them that if they do ‘this,’ then they will lead to ‘this’? That’s on you. That’s not on that child.”

Chavarria, Acosta, and Jess were featured presenters during the symposium, which was conducted online with sessions placed on the website of the Oklahoma Aspiring Educators Association so its members—individuals pursuing a teaching degree—can review the material at their convenience.

The Oklahoma Aspiring Educators Association (OAEA) is an affiliate of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), the state’s largest teacher union and the state affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA).

Chavarria said police send a message of racial oppression and bolster white supremacy.

“We have officers who murder black and brown, unarmed men and women, with zero consequences, or racist vigilantes who can just murder people and have no consequences,” Chavarria said. “When things like this happen, it shows white America that this country is theirs and that they can really do whatever they want and get away with it.”