United Denver students march, present demands on race, police relations

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

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: banner protest

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.

“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.

Photo: eighth graders

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 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.