By Caleb T. Maupin
Published May 19, 2010 4:25 PM
While leafleting outside Cleveland’s Collinwood High School in support of police brutality survivor Rebecca Whitby, some activists met 16-year-old student Seth Bartlekamp. He announced a student walkout on May 13 to oppose the impending closing of 16 city schools and layoffs of 800 teachers and other school employees across the city’s school district.
With the goal of organizing an action intended to build solidarity among students, teachers and other school workers, Bartlekamp contacted the Cleveland Teachers Union and community organizations about supporting the walkout.
Despite threats Bartlekamp says were made against him and other students by school authorities if they carried out the walkout, he sent out a Facebook message announcing the action. Many students signed on in support and pledged to walk out on May 13, to call for a stop to the school cutbacks, layoffs and closings.
On the morning of the walkout, this writer and Adam Gluntz, organizers for Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST), which also works with Bail Out the People Movement, greeted students who had walked out of school and joined with them.
All the students who participated in the walkout, except Bartlekamp, are African American, as is the majority population at Collinwood High School and throughout the Cleveland school district. They were concerned about the impact of the school cutbacks on the quality of education in their school and their community.
Inside the school, the hallways filled with hundreds of students who wanted to join the walkout. Students reported that in order to prevent them from leaving, the doors were chained shut by school security guards.
Outside the school, the vice principal walked down the steps to speak with those who had walked out and told them he had called the police. When the police arrived, they grabbed the shirts of protesting students and handcuffed them.
Students say that police officers, moving to arrest sisters DeAsia and Destiny Bronaugh, slammed them against a police car and then onto the ground. They say that a police sergeant thrust his knee into Destiny Bruno’s neck and smashed her face into the pavement while she moaned in pain and said she was having an asthma attack. Another officer threatened to use a Taser against her.
She called out, “We were protesting at our school and they’re trying to arrest us!”
As protesters called for the police to let the women go, even the vice principal agreed and called out to the police.
A police officer threatened to arrest those who were videotaping the attack and told them that protests were “unacceptable.”
Maupin, who had videotaped the police assault, and other FIST members posted the video on YouTube and informed area media about it. Organizers were interviewed on radio station WTAM and asked listeners to call the police station to demand the women’s release.
Inside the high school, Bartlekamp reports he and another student were brutally interrogated by the police without a parent or guardian present or even being notified. Bartlekamp says he was threatened with institutionalization if he did not answer their questions and that his mother was threatened with arrest if the protests continued and if she defended her son.
Outrage spread throughout the city as the video of the racist assault became public. About 40 students and other activists defiantly marched to the police station, chanting all the way. Many told of police abuses which occur regularly outside the school and nearby.
An after-school protest against the brutal arrests was called for the next day, when more than 200 students joined the protest as school ended. They loudly chanted, “Save our schools!” and “Money for schools, not the banks!” One student held up a sign reading “Youth need jobs, not jails!” when asked by reporters why he was there.
Some news media red-baited FIST members instead of focusing on the police attack. Martha Grevatt, an autoworker and organizer for the Cleveland chapter of the Bail Out the People Movement, criticized the media for red-baiting the organizers, who had come to the defense of the students being assaulted.
Speaking to the media, Bartlekamp thanked FIST for its support of the student-initiated walkout. Other community members thanked FIST as well.
Cleveland FIST member Maupin said that, “I came here to stand against an injustice and it’s shameful that the media are attacking me for my political beliefs.”
That evening, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and local civil rights attorney James Hardiman obtained the release of the Bronaugh sisters, after a lengthy meeting with the Cleveland Police Department’s internal affairs section. The women are being charged with assault on a police officer, aggravated disorderly conduct, truancy and resisting arrest.
Support is growing for those arrested. A Collinwood Defense Committee is being organized on behalf of all 12 of the students who joined in the walkout and have been suspended for five days. Also, local and national worker-activists, including educators, have signed a call for trade unionists to support the students.
Organizers request calls to the Fifth District police station at 216-623-5618 and 216-623-6500 to demand all charges against the students be dropped and to protest the police attack against them. They also ask that calls be made to the Cleveland Board of Education at 216-574-8000 and Collinwood High School at 216-451-8782 to demand that the suspensions be rescinded and that Seth Bartlekamp not be expelled.
The Bail Out the People Movement has posted an online petition supporting the students. It asserts that the “Brutal attack was a deliberate attempt to intimidate students and crush the potential to build labor-student-community solidarity and is a racist attack on Cleveland’s African-American community.” Sign on at www.bailoutpeople.org.
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