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'Completely unacceptable': Community members respond to M-A student arrest

Police have not released footage or the police report from the incident, but students recorded videos of the April 28 arrest in which the Black student was pinned to the ground at a bus stop on Middlefield Road by an Atherton Police Department officer.

During the public comment session of the meeting, students told the board that administrators should have more training in how to de-escalate conflicts without involving the police. Over a dozen speakers, including student board trustees, told the board that they were "disgusted" by the videos they saw and said it was "completely unacceptable."

Police have not released footage or the police report from the incident, but students recorded videos of the April 28 arrest in which the Black student was pinned to the ground at a bus stop on Middlefield Road by an Atherton Police Department officer.

"What if it was me who was pinned on the ground?" M-A Black Student Union (BSU) member Epiphany Bass told the school board. "I feel like his (the student's) actions weren't right but his parents could have been called. ... They (the administration) said that was our last resort, even though it really wasn't. ... I don't want to see an event happen like this again."

J.T. Faraji, an organizer from the protest group Tha Hood Squad, told the board that the student arrested had to have a surgery redone because of injuries sustained during the arrest. In one video of the incident, a student said that the student pinned down recently had surgery for a hernia.

Former and current staff members also spoke about the incident and their frustration dealing with racism in America.

"What we are doing here today as Black educators is the same thing my 92-year-old grandmother did," said Jeremy Arey, a paraprofessional at M-A. "The same thing my uncle, who is a freedom fighter with Nelson Mandela, did. Now here we are 100 years later, after (having) experienced traumas in our families for decades living in America, still doing the same thing, hoping people have empathy and change a school system that has been weaponized against people of color."

Taja Henderson, the district's equity, diversity, and inclusion coach, said the board has the ability to make a statement that anti-Blackness has no place in its schools.

"I stood in a crowd for convocation where Dr. Shawn Harper (a USC professor teaching racial equity in the United States) encouraged us to be a district that collectively acts to create spaces where every student, staff, family member and community members thrives," Henderson said. "My question is: 'How will we work collectively with M-A's BSU in order to do just that?'"

Board President Rich Ginn said that he and other board members are saddened by the events on April 28. He encouraged school staffers to review their practices.

Other student actions taken in response to the incident

M-A students staged a walkout from classes on the morning of May 11 to speak out against police violence. On May 3, the BSU hosted a protest as well. One speaker during the May 10 board meeting noted that board trustees Shawneece Stevenson and Sathvik Nori, an M-A alum, attended the May 3 protest.

A Change.org petition calling for an end to police brutality in the school district has garnered about 650 signatures as of Wednesday, May 17.

The petition outlines requests such as requiring in-person de-escalation training for everyone on campus, hiring an additional counselor to help with de-escalation, increasing hiring and retention of Black school district employees, and clear policies and a job description for the school's student resource officer.

Millbrae Vice Mayor Maurice Goodman urged the board on May 11 to honor students' demands not just with words but action.

"Let us commit to the deconstruction white supremacy and historical practices and policies that disproportionately impact our children of color," he said.

Background on the incident

Videos, including one shared by the Instagram account @thahoodnews, show two students being handcuffed, and one being held down by officers, at Middlefield Road and Oak Grove Avenue around 3:30 p.m. on April 28.

Atherton Police Cmdr. Dan Larsen said police are conducting an administrative review of the incident. He said police were dispatched to the high school after a student was reported to have pushed a school administrator against a wall and yelled homophobic slurs at him. Police received several 911 calls about the incident in the office, the news bulletin said.

Atherton police said in a May 3, news bulletin that school officials took a water gun away from the student earlier in the week and he was in the school office asking for the water gun to be returned.

The student's family is being represented by Oakland-based civil rights attorney John Burris, who represented Rodney King in his civil rights lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department. Burris told The Almanac that his office is investigating the student's treatment by police and he will be making a recommendation about whether to file a lawsuit soon.

Public Records Act request for arrest information

Last week, The Almanac requested the police report from the incident, but police department officials said on May 16 that they would not release it, as it is exempt from Public Records Act requests because it involves the arrest of a minor. It's also exempt because "required disclosures of information derived from the records about incidents, arrests, and complaints (or requests for assistance to law enforcement) need not ... entail disclosure of the records themselves," according to police.

Officer body camera footage is also unavailable because the "footage is not related to a critical incident."

Meeting video

Watch the video of the meeting at tinyurl.com/SeqMay10.




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About the Author: Angela Swartz

Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business.
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