Cover image taken by Celine Chien
On Wednesday afternoon, over a hundred M-A students, teachers, and community members gathered to protest the Atherton Police Department and M-A administration’s actions last Friday when police handcuffed two students and pinned one to the ground just outside school.
Despite heavy rain, the protestors walked for over an hour. They started on Oak Grove, Marcussen Drive, and Middlefield, stopping at the bus stop where police kneeled on the student’s back while he and his friends pleaded for the officers to get off him because he was in pain from a recent surgery.
The protestors then continued back down Oak Grove, blocking traffic on El Camino all the way to Safeway, chanting slogans like “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
Community member Maurice Goodman said, “I watched the video last week and I saw myself, I saw my sons in those young men’s eyes. I just knew someone had to do something. I’m glad students did something when parents and adults were quiet. I’m glad the students are holding adults accountable to do something.”
Freshman and Black Student Union (BSU) Social Media manager Eboni Freeman, who was involved in planning the event said, “I’m very proud of the student body and all the members of the community who showed up. I feel like we accomplished something today.”
Teacher Anne Olson said, “There were a few people who were out on the streets who asked about what was happening and what this was in response to, and that was an opportunity to educate the community about something that they hadn’t heard about yet. I think that protesting is also important because it reminds us that we have the collective power to enact change. In situations like what happened on Friday where power was taken away from a human being, it’s really important to reclaim that power.”
Students then assembled in the PAC Cafe to listen to speeches by students, members of the BSU, and J.T. Faraji, an organizer from the protest group thahoodsquad.
Faraji, who said he was speaking on behalf of the arrested student’s family, said, “They want to make sure that this is an awareness opportunity. They also want you to know that there are two sides to every story, so they want to make sure that students are respectful to authority and to the administration.”
Freeman, who also gave a speech, said, “Yes, it was a harmful situation, and that is what admin said, but you haven’t mentioned how it was traumatic, you haven’t mentioned how there was a little boy being pinned to the ground, begging for someone to come help him, and no one did. They didn’t even acknowledge that there was M-A staff watching the whole time, not a thing was done, no one helped him. It felt like he was alone, and I felt like I was alone—because what if that was me?”
BSU advisor Chloe Gentile-Montgomery told protestors, “What happened on Friday could have been avoided had more people on campus been trained in de-escalation practices, had more people on campus had stronger relationships with students, had more students on campus felt safe going into the office and didn’t feel like they needed to enter on the defense.”
M-A’s BSU organized the protest along with a petition to “End Police Brutality in Sequoia Union High School District.” Among their demands are de-escalation training for all staff, contacting parents before calling the police, a school-wide assembly on the event, the hiring of an additional counselor to help with de-escalation, training for student conflict mediators, clearer policies regarding the employment of M-A’s School Resource Officer (SRO), and increased hiring of Black staff. Many students also went to the PAC Cafe on Monday to plan the protests and make posters to raise awareness about the arrest.
Freeman said that the BSU has met with admin to discuss the incident, but added, “I want to talk when things aren’t so high emotion because I know that the answers aren’t gonna satisfy me right now because I’m so angry. Next week, I do want to sit down and have an actual conversation. We can’t change this now, all we can do is prevent this from happening to any other students.”
Sophomore Joey Stout said, “What we really need to be doing is standing our ground and telling the school that we are not okay with what they’re doing. And that’s what a protest is, a protest is a way to amplify our voices. ”
Sophomore Melanie Osuna, who was at the bus stop on Friday, said, “I think it’s important to show our dedication and we’re not going to stop until we get what we need. It just shows that we’re strong as a community and we all have each other’s backs. And we can go through this and have a better future for future students coming to the school so that they can feel safer.”
Yesterday, the Atherton Police Department released a statement which said, “The student… physically assaulted a school administrator by pushing them into a cubicle wall, tried to push the administrator’s glasses off their face, spit on them, and called them derogatory homophobic slurs.”
In his speech, Faraji addressed this statement, saying, “The family of the student wants to make sure that you know that the statement that the police came out with today is categorically false.”
Many protestors interviewed were dissatisfied with administrators’ response to the situation, both in calling the police and in statements released on Monday and Tuesday. Freeman said, “There was a lack of transparency and I was left with more questions than answers. It felt like they didn’t care and like they were siding with the police. I was mad and I felt lied to by M-A because you hear about all these things about how they’re aware of how Black people are treated in society, but then when a situation like this happens in real life, they are nowhere to be found.”
Montgomery said, “Moving forward, I want to continue seeing students speak out like this and continuing to make their voices heard.”