Originally published in
Brianna Phillips’s life was already surreal when she answered a phone call that turned out to be from a reporter in Norway. A sophomore at Minneapolis’s Patrick Henry High School, she lives “over north” — local parlance for a swath of the city impacted dramatically by both COVID-19 and the protests that have swept the city since the death of George Floyd in police custody on Memorial Day.
When the phone rang, Phillips’s family was settling back into their house, which they had fled the weekend before, when fires set by looters got dangerously close. The Norwegian reporter wanted to talk about Phillips’s role in the Minneapolis Board of Education’s decision to end its relationship with the city police department.
A relatively newly minted activist, Phillips works with a group of students that for years has pushed Minneapolis Public Schools to end its contract with the department for school resource officers. A member of Our Turn, she had sent the group’s most recent petition to the district’s Board of Directors.
Floyd’s death, the students wrote, was too much. “He screamed ‘I can’t breathe’ while a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes,” the petition states. “We must call this what it is. This was a modern-day lynching. MPS should no longer be willing to be linked to the criminalization and killing of black and brown bodies.”
After a historic vote Tuesday night terminating the contract, school board chair Kim Ellison credited Minneapolis students for keeping the issue of police in schools at the top of the agenda and vowed to include them in deciding what happens next.
“Students have been telling us for years,” she said in an interview with The 74. “I’m sorry we’ve not listened to them.”
Overnight, the Minneapolis board’s vote has had a ripple effect, as districts throughout the country — some of them under pressure from students for years — are now talking about removing their own school resource officers.
By Beth Hawkins