Oct. 22 marked the 19th anniversary of the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Among campuses and organizations across the nation that rose to action, Garfield High School students marched with determination to the Seattle Police Department to send a simple but powerful message about their opposition to police brutality.
Members of the high school’s Black Student Union, faculty and other supporters—about 40 protesters altogether—began their march from the Garfield campus around 3 p.m. with their megaphones, protest signs and umbrellas. Drenched by rain, they were met by a swath of policemen carrying wooden batons, but the protesters were resolute in communicating their message.
According to Garfield High School history teacher and BSU co-advisor Jesse Hagopian, students were marching in response to the recent actions by Darren Wilson—the officer who killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO—and Seattle Sergeant Christopher Hall’s response.
“[Hall] posted a Facebook message saying he supports Darren Wilson,” said Hagopian. “The students felt that was inappropriate and that it cheapened the lives of young black people.”
The shooting and SPD responses were the final tipping point of historical frustrations that Garfield students and the community have felt with the Seattle’s police force. BSU officers and other student organizations wanted to utilize the significant date of Oct. 22 to highlight police brutality in their community.
Seattle University senior Natalie Truong graduated from Garfield High School in 2011 and recalled her own experiences with police discrimination.
“I would just be walking with my friends … some police officers would stop students and ask students where they were going and if they were affiliated in some way with gangs in the Central District,” Truong said.
She also mentioned that police officers sometimes used racial slurs to speak to students.
Seattle U junior Chloe Belisle also graduated from Garfield High School in 2011 and believed the students’ march was justified.
Belisle explained that police brutality is a prevalent issue in areas such as the Central District, where minority groups, who often experience brutality at higher rates, make up a large portion of the population.
During her time at Garfield High School, Belisle heard of many incidents about police discrimination against students, particularly minorities.
Given the history of police brutality in the community and rise of similar incidents across the nation, Truong and Belisle are proud of their former high school’s efforts.
“[The march] is a great way to show that people in the community are still strong, especially in the younger generation,” Truong said.
While Hagopian has led movements at the high school, such as Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test boycott, this was the first rally that the students organized by themselves.
Hagopian is especially proud of his students for standing up for what they believe in. Garfield has been at the forefront of civic action in Seattle. Examples of Garfield’s involvement in social justice include events such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the school in 1961, the implementation of black studies programs, and student participation in the MAP
“I see this [march] as a part of a long history of commitment to civic action,” Hapogian said In addition to protesting, the students sent a declaration to the SPD detailing their goals of accountability and community autonomy. While police responses to the protest were mixed, ranging from impressed to defensive, the march marked the beginning of what the students hope to be a series of changes. Students plan on meeting with the SPD in the near future to discuss their concerns in greater depth.
Melissa may be reached at [email protected]