Student Ashia Ajani reads a poem before students march to Capitol.

(Photo: CPR/Jenny Brundin)

About 200 students from Denver-area high schools marched to the state Capitol Friday, demanding accountability from the Denver police department and increased attention to race from school district administrators.

The march was billed as a protest against police brutality and a march in solidarity with protesters in Ferguson, Mo. where a white police officer shot to death an unarmed black 18-year-old.

Students began collaboratively organizing the event on Monday, hoping to harness the energy of the individual school walkouts in a productive way and to show a united front. Many parents and community members marched with them.

Denver School of the Arts senior Miles Holland was one of event’s organizers.

“We’re [Colorado] actually pretty dysfunctional due to us having one of the highest police brutality rates in the nation and a lot of people don’t know about this,” he said. “We’re not necessarily living in harmony here and we need to start opening our eyes and looking around at the things that need to change.”

(Photo: CPR/Jenny Brundin)

More than 70 percent of Denver students are students of color and students say the reality of race and its role in police brutality is felt acutely by the student population.

Robert Garth, a student at the Denver Online High, said police brutality is getting out of hand.

 “Last week there was another shooting, more police brutality and I’m just seeing all these crazy things and it just needs to come to an end,” he said.

He said black lives matter, and that “we’re all brother and sister in the world, so there should be peace.”

(Photo: CPR/Jenny Brundin)

This morning, students at Manual High School held a passionate discussion with police officers on the issue of race and social justice.  Students called it a “speak-in” rather than a “walk-out.”

"We must recognize that we are all one. No one in the U.S. is free until we are all free,” said Manual student Lilio Palmer.

Students in the multi-school march drew up a list of demands for Denver Public Schools and the city:

DENVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS

  • Stop instituting lockdowns for schools that choose to exercise their First Amendment rights by walking out of class.
  • Improve Affirmative Action hiring protocols. The majority of DPS students are people of color, and the majority of DPS teachers and administrators are not.
  • Emphasized sensitivity training around issues of racism and racial inequality for DPS teachers and administrators.
  • Funding for student-lead discussions on race at high schools.
  • Special review processes before disciplining students of color – racial profiling begins in kindergarten.

CITY OF DENVER

  • Fire the police officers guilty of killing Marvin Booker and Ryan Ronquillo.
  • Hire a special prosecutor to try cases of police misconduct. The district attorney normally tries these cases, but has a conflict of interest as they work closely with the Denver Police Department on other matters.
  • Institute Affirmative Action hiring protocols so the racial composition of the police force reflects the populations they are supposed to protect.
  • Demilitarize the police force by withdrawing from the Department of Defense 1033 program, which supplies military hardware to local police across the U.S., and emphasize non-violent conflict resolution training for officers.
  • Body and dashboard cameras to record police interactions with the public, to be shared without reservations with the Office of the Independent Monitor, a civilian oversight agency.
  • Strengthen support for the Office of the Independent Monitor, and expand their powers to include the development of police policy.
  • Prohibit profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.
  • Restorative, not retributive justice.

 

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s response to the students demands was the following:

“We have already had many meaningful conversations with our students and are looking forward to further discussing issues related to race and social justice with our students and school communities in multiple ways, including student-led forums. We encourage all students who have thoughts, opinions and ideas on this important conversation to join us at one of the forums. These forums will further the work we are doing with our Equity and Inclusion team as well as the classroom discussions and activities that are already taking place.”

In response to student demands to the city, Denver’s executive Director of Public Safety Stephanie O’Malley said:

“The city has been working closely with Denver Public Schools to develop on-going forums where students can interact directly with law enforcement to address these important issues. In the meantime, we will support their right to free speech and work to ensure their safety.”

After students walked out schools for four days in a row this week and last, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he heard their concerns loud and clear.

"You were effective,” Hancock said. “Now go back to the classroom, do what you have to do to finish the semester strong, and help us by coming to the table … to have these conversations.”

Those conversations will begin Dec. 19, though no details are available just yet. Hancock said a series of smaller forums will lead to larger “general assemblies” around the city. The goal, he said, is to develop a plan of action to address race issues in law enforcement agencies, schools and the city at large.