Student protest met with police brutality
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.
Still from video shows Cleveland police
arresting DeAsia and Destiny Bronaugh.
FIST video: Caleb T. Maupin
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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