Policing

Following recent violence, community groups call for immediate removal of all police from schools

“We must remember that this is not an isolated incident, but rather placed within a broader pattern and system of state violence that targets and endangers our students of color. This is not just about Jay-Juan, but about all young people that have experienced violence – filmed or not – at the hands of police and school resource officers.”
Photo for Following recent violence, community groups call for immediate removal of all police from schools

Published on February 11, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

On February 1 a School Resource Officer (SRO) assaulted a 16-year-old student at Mount Pleasant High School in Providence. On Friday afternoon 21 organizations released a letter they collectively sent to Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Angélica Infante-Green demanding justice for the student, Jay-Juan and the immediate removal of SROs from all schools.

The full text of the letter is below:


Dear Commissioner Infante-Green, 

The twenty organizations listed below are sharing this statement with you. The signatories are youth-led organizations and their allies. We hope to meet with you and the leadership of the Providence Public School Department to discuss a plan for Police Free Schools in Providence. 

Solidarity Statement in Response to the Assault of a 16-year old Student by a School Resource Officer at Mount Pleasant High School Police Free Schools Now 

On February 1, 2022, a 16 year old student at Mount Pleasant High was physically assaulted by a school resource officer, arrested, and taken to the police station without justification. He was held in custody for a total of 20 hours. For the first five hours in the custody of Providence police he was barred from contacting his family, getting medical care or speaking with his attorneys. Video footage shows Jay-Juan, the student, being body slammed, choked, and restrained by Officer Leonel Pichs despite having fallen unconscious. Another student – 17 years old – attempted to protect Jay from the officer, and was subsequently also arrested.

Mount Pleasant High then neglected to notify Jay’s mother of the arrest, leaving her to find out through a call from Jay’s classmate. It took three days for anyone from the school or the School Department to contact either Jay or Jay’s guardians. School personnel still have offered no explanation as to why Jay was forcibly removed from the school and taken to the police station without his family ever being notified. The police claimed that Jay was arrested for a school fight, but this was then disputed by student eye-witnesses who denied that there was ever a fight. The police then changed their story, claiming that Jay was arrested under the suspicion of being involved in illegal activity. Regardless of what Jay did or didn’t do, any violence inflicted against a minor by the hands of a police officer or school authority is completely unacceptable. Since then, Jay has been returned home and placed under house arrest. He and his family face the added stress of surveillance by unidentified Providence police parked outside of the home, which has continued to make them feel unsafe.

While the damage that has been done is irreversible, there are a number of steps the school, police department, and district must take to minimize harm and acknowledge accountability for what happened.

In the immediate aftermath of this incident, we ask the community to stand with Jay-Juan, JayJuan’s family, the students and families of Mount Pleasant and all victims of state sponsored violence in demanding that:

  1. Officer Leonel Pichs be suspended and permanently removed from the Providence Public Schools immediately if he has not already been. This is not the first time Pichs has abused his position: from 2017-2020, Pichs has been responsible for 43 out of 50 student arrests at Mount Pleasant. [Not to mention that Pich’s presence at the school is re-traumatizing for many of Jay’s peers that witnessed the assault firsthand.]
  2. All charges against Jay-Juan be dropped.
  3. Jay-Juan be allowed to attend a school that isn’t Mount Pleasant; until an ideal placement can be found for him, transfer to another school should be expedited and, if necessary, learning should be conducted virtually.
  4. Jay Juan must be allowed to leave the home independently and without a curfew.
  5. All School Resource Officers be removed from Providence schools, so as to create a safe environment for our students and to avoid the retraumatization of youth familiar with state violence.
  6. Mount Pleasant be held accountable for this gross violation of student rights and of the district’s own SRO policies.
  7. All PPSD schools re-commit to follow district policy and notify parents/guardians when their child is being subject to any disciplinary action.

Simultaneously, we must remember that this is not an isolated incident, but rather placed within a broader pattern and system of state violence that targets and endangers our students of color. This is not just about Jay-Juan, but about all young people that have experienced violence – filmed or not – at the hands of police and school resource officers. With the presence of SROs, combined with zero-tolerance policies, minor infractions that are normally handled by educators are defaulted to the police. This system of criminalization leads to suspensions, arrests, and abuses of power, which are both detrimental to their futures and deeply traumatizing.

In Providence schools alone, there were over 230 arrests between the 2016-17 and 2019-20 school years. Mount Pleasant, the school Jay attended, is notorious for its criminalization of youth: 33% (79 total) of student arrests came from Mount Pleasant alone although the school accounts for only approximately 12% of Providence high school students. [This pattern is nothing new. The subject speaker of PBS’s latest op-doc on the Rhode Island School-to-Prison pipeline is a Mount Pleasant alum themselves. Enrollment figures per R.I. Department of Education 2019-2020 Enrollment Data.]

The evidence shows that police, both in Providence and the United States widely, disproportionately criminalize Black, Indigenous, Latinx and students of color, as well as students with disabilities. In Providence: from the 2016-17 to 2019-20 school years, boys of color made up nearly 65% of student arrests, and Black students were targeted by 30% of all student arrests, while only making up 16% of the student population. There is no evidence that SROs improve student safety. Instead research shows that the majority of students feel unsafe with SROs. At the worst extreme, as in Jay’s cause, the police are known to physically traumatize students – in the United States, there have been 152 documented assaults on students of color by police officers between 2007-2021.

To prevent violations like this from occurring again, we stand with the Providence Alliance for Student Safety (PASS) in demanding necessary structural changes:

  1. Police free schools: remove all school resource officers from Providence schools.
  2. Support for health, well-being and dignity: redistribute the funds used on school resource officers to hiring counselors and social workers in the schools.
  3. Restorative culture and practice: bringing restorative practices to PPSD to fundamentally change the discipline system and create safety based on accountability and long-term healing.
  4. Student voices at the lead: Students should have oversight over policies that affect our health and wellbeing.

Full demands here

Signed,

  • Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education
  • Alliance to Mobilize our Resistance
  • A Leadership Journey
  • A Sweet Creation Youth Organization
  • Center for Youth & Community Leadership in Education (CYCLE)
  • DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality)
  • Defund the Police, Reimagine Safety, Invest in Providence
  • Equity Institute
  • Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE)
  • Providence Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
  • Providence Student Union
  • Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM)
  • Rhode Island Urban Debate League
  • SISTA Fire
  • STEAM Box
  • Students for Educational Equity @Brown
  • The R.I. Center for Justice
  • Youth in Action
  • Young Voices
  • Institute for Social Cohesion

cc’d on the letter were:

  • Governor Daniel McKee 
  • Lt. Governor Sabina Matos 
  • Superintendent Javier Montañez 
  • Kinzel Thomas, School Board President 
  • Diagneris Garcia, School Board Vice President 
  • Mark Santow, School Board Secretary 
  • Travis Escobar, Providence School Board 
  • Elizabeth Goldberg, Providence School Board 
  • Muyideen Ibiyemi, Providence School Board 
  • Ty’Relle Stephens, Providence School Board
[The Providence Alliance for Student Safety (PASS) is coalition of youth-led organizations: the Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education (ARISE), Providence Student Union (PSU), and Providence Youth Student Movement (PRYSM), Youth In Action (YIA), Rhode Island Urban Debate League (RIUDL), and Young Voices. Their goal is the removal of disciplinary surveillance systems, dismantling the policing practices of institutionalized racism and the school to prison pipeline, and their current campaign “CounselorsNotCops” aims at the total removal of SROs in Providence schools.][Edit: The original version of this piece gave Jay-Juan’s age as 17. His lawyer contacted UpriseRI to say that Jay-Juan is actually 16, and the piece was changed to reflect this.]

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