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Students march on State House to demand counselors, not cops in Providence public schools

“As many of you are aware, my friend unfortunately passed away a few months ago,” said Shaylee, a sophomore at Classical High School. “After her death, there were workers going to classrooms offering help, giving out papers with phone numbers that you can call in case you’re having thoughts. Some teachers were being flexible and understanding students and the library was filled with social workers for students who needed support. After the week, there was none of that… I do not want my friends death treated as a trend. The help should always be there. What students need now is support…”
Photo for Students march on State House to demand counselors, not cops in Providence public schools

Published on May 1, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

Friday was day two of a two-day Providence public school student protest demanding the removal of SROs (School Resource Officers) from school and reallocating the funds to more mental and emotional health support. Organized by the Providence Student Union (PSU), students are also demanding that all in-school police officers to be replaced with mental health counselors and safety staff trained in alternative conflict resolution and for the hiring of additional support staff.

See coverage of day one here: Students walkout to demand counselors, not cops in Providence public schools

Students organized outside the Providence Student union, across the street from Classical High School, and marched to the Rhode Island State House to bring their message to Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee, who supports keeping police officers in schools.

UpriseRI reporter Will James had the livestream:

“Today we are here because you have organized and called to action to removed SROs for over four years and replace them with more mental health counselors, more social workers and more social-emotional support for students,” said student Jayson Rodriguez, outside PPSD offices, acting as emcee for the event. “For too long students have been disrespected and criminalized by the Providence Public School District and its contract with the police department. Today we are calling for an end to that contract and that it never be reinstated ever again.

“We don’t need cops in our schools. We don’t need guns in our schools. We need actual safety that isn’t rooted in our oppression and tied to the school-to-prison pipeline. We need to protect Black, brown, queer, trans and near-divergentant students. This harm shall go on no longer. We deserve better!

“This is what we are here for today. We want Counselors, Not Cops!”

The march from Providence Student Union to the Rhode Island State House:

Organizers led the crowd in chants:

“Fortunately, I go to to a school where there isn’t an officer on site and where there are more than three accessible social guidance counselors in each school building,” said Makora Lweis, a student at the Met High School. “And because of the effect of minor issues being resolved without physical damage, there has not been a single physical fight there since 1998.”

As the Lewis spoke, around fifty students from the Wheeler School arrived at Grant’s Block, to join and support the protest outside RIDE.

“There have been several reported and undocumented cases over the last decade in which school resource officers have tasered, pepper-sprayed, wounded and used aggression on students in order to cause physical damage,” continued Lewis.

“As many of you are aware, my friend unfortunately passed away a few months ago,” said Shaylee, a sophomore at Classical High School. “After her death, there were workers going to classrooms offering help, giving out papers with phone numbers that you can call in case you’re having thoughts. Some teachers were being flexible and understanding students and the library was filled with social workers for students who needed support. After the week, there was none of that. There were no more social workers at the library, there was no more giving phone numbers, teachers went back to normal and students were expected to be okay.

“I do not want my friends death treated as a trend. The help should always be there. What students need now is support. This year has been tough for everyone. We all have experienced some type of loss – a loss of motivation or a loved one.

“Stop waiting for another tragedy to happen to start offering students the help they need. Rep[lace cops with counselors.”

Bhintuna, a Providence high school student, spoke about the need for counselors to prevent teen suicide.

“The first leading cause of teenage death is accidental injury,” said Bhintuna, “But the second leading cause of teenage death is suicide – not cancer or illness – suicide.

“So why aren’t schools doing anything about it? We should be giving kids the support that they need. The support that we need. And what we need, is mental health resources…

“So let’s stop spending more on people who make our lives worse, and start spending money on people that make our lives better!”

“Listen, I’m going to be honest with you, and I’m sure a lot of you will relate to this: middle school fucking sucked,” said B, a public high school student. “I’m queer, I was dealing with homophobia and PTSD and a learning disability and the only reason I am standing here in front of you today is because of the wonderful counselors and school psychologists who kept me alive…

“It was… [because of the] dozens and dozens of mental health professionals doing the best they can – overworked and underpaid…

“They teach us – day in and day out – that it doesn’t matter what’s happening, it is not the end, it is not over, and we do not need to get into a fight or hurt ourselves or yell at our teachers about it…

“And when I’m having a panic attack in a school bathroom, or in the throes of sensory overload – Is it a fucking cop who’s going to come and talk me down? Is it a cop who’s going to come to me and say, ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay, breathe with me?’

“The cops take our breath away…”

Attorney AmatoBudDeLuca has filed suit in federal court on behalf of a former Narragansett High School student with special education needs who was thrown to the ground, choked and falsely arrested by a SRO over a rude hand gesture the student gave the SRO.

“We know from statistics that have been provided to us by the ACLU that 28% of the students with disabilities are brought in and assaulted by police officers and put into the system of justice while they represent only 12% of the students in this country,” said Attorney DeLuca. “We also know that from 2002 to 2016, suicides of young adults like yourselves have increased by 70%.

“What that tells us is that we don’t need more police officers in schools, what that tells us is that we need more counselors in schools…”

Yon noted that his school, student at Classical High, is the number one school in the state, where he was taking three AP classes, while holding down a job and taking engaging in extracurricular activities. “You might ask, if it’s the number one school in the state, what’s the issue?” asked Yon. “Well, my mental health was the issue. I was anxious, I was missing assignments, and to be honest, I didn’t know whether or not I could make it.

“Whether it’s the education, or the SROs, we’re constantly in an environment where we’re stressed out.”

“You need to remove SRO’s” said Dianara, in a message to Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee. “In my middle school years we had cops in our schools and they were used as weapon of intimidation against students of color to try to discipline them. But what they don’t realize is that students need people to talk to – to help them become better students and people.

“Lots of students have had bad experiences with cops, and if we want kids in our schools to be open and if we want to build community then let’s not add to the trauma that lots of students have.

“Don’t intimidate, but guide them – to be better people than they were yesterday.SRO bullies are full of intimidation. We already have trauma, as Black and brown students, out of our schools, and we don’t need them in our schools.

“We are going to stand up and not stand down. Let’s not build trauma but build trust…

“I come here to learn and not to be bullied. Counselors, not cops.”

A poem from Eugenie and Jayson Rodriguez:

“It’s sad that attending a school without SROs is a privilege and it’s not accessible to every student” said Alan de la Cruz, a junior at Paul Cuffee School. “Being at an SRO free school means that I can receive an education where I’m not worried that I’m going to become the next victim of police brutality.”

The crowd held a five minute sit-in, a moment of silence, before marching back to PSU on Westminster Street.

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