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Assault at Ben Franklin

On Thursday, May 5th, 2016, Brian Burney, a member of the Philadelphia Student Union and student at Benjamin Franklin High School, was assaulted by a school police officer while attempting to use the bathroom at his school. During 9th period, Brian attempted to use the bathrooms on the 4th and 3rd floor but they were both locked. On the 3rd floor, he was told by Officer Jeffrey Maciocha that he needed a pass. Brian didn’t have one. In a moment of frustration, an argument ensued and Brian threw an orange against the wall. The cop retaliated by punching him twice in the face, slamming him down and began choking him. Many students gathered around and yelled at the officer to get off of Brian.

Assault at Ben Franklin from Philly Student Union on Vimeo.

Another student at the school began recording Brian, who was in a chokehold. While recording the video, the student was told to delete the footage or be at risk of arrest. The phone was taken from him by a teacher who deleted the footage herself, attempting to erase the documentation of the police brutality that had just occurred in front of a group of students. As another officer arrived to the scene, students urged the officers to let Brian go. Brian has asthma and they feared he would have an asthma attack and need medical attention. Students at Benjamin Franklin High School recall that their fears were also rooted in the fact that they thought the incident was going to become another “Eric Garner situation.” This is further complicated by the fact that Benjamin Franklin High School does not have a full time nurse (few neighborhood schools in Philadelphia do). After the incident, Brian was diagnosed as having suffered a concussion by the physicians at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Recording acts of police violence is not illegal. However, when it threatens to dismantle the vision of “school safety” that is painted by proponents of policing schools, students have been arrested in their schools for documenting police brutality. During a time when Philadelphia’s school budgets are barely funded, schools are turned over to charter companies regularly, and full time nurses and counselors are nowhere to be found, the proliferation of cops in schools has hardly slowed. However, it has never been shown that cops in schools make them any “safer”. So, why do we continue to police police schools in this way?

The legacy of police brutality and violence against young people of color, especially Black youth, is the first part of the answer. Young black people in our cities schools are routinely policed and then, criminalized for their existence. Regardless of what Brian was doing, no young person deserves to be treated with this amount of reckless violence and brutality, especially within an institution that, above all, should promote justice and learning.

We understand police violence in school to be inextricably connected to state violence. We define violence as “power that hurts people’s chances at survival.” The School District of Philadelphia, in denying basic resources to students in already under-resourced communities, systematically denies young people an equal and just chance at survival in the city of Philadelphia. The deprivation of basic needs is, in fact, a violent act. Policing students’ bodies and right to use the restroom is a violent act. The young people of Philadelphia have been experiencing this type of violence for decades. Police in schools are the by-product of decades of disinvestment by the state coupled with the racist notion that the only way to “control” young people of color is to criminalize and arrest them.

The assault at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina last year taught us that school districts will work hard to criminalize even the documentation of police violence in school. Niya Kenny, the young woman who recorded the act of police brutality,continues to fight for justice while facing charges that have been pressed for recording the incident. Brian’s story is no different. An act of police brutality occurred and an attempt to hide the evidence was clear.

On the morning of Monday, May 9, 2016, Brian Burney’s mother and uncle went to Benjamin Franklin High School to meet with administrators about the incident. Upon entering the school building, they both were harassed by school police officers. Brian’s mother and his community stand together in demanding that Jeffrey Maciocha, the officer who attacked him, is fired.

The Philadelphia Student Union also stands with Brian. Incidences like this are why the Philadelphia Student Union exists, to fight for the rights of students, many of which have been violated for decades. Across the country, youth are standing up to take back control of their schools, demanding that the surveillance and policing of Black and Brown youth in schools comes to an end.

The Philadelphia Student Union demands the firing of the Officer Jeffrey Maciocha, as well as a complete overhaul of school police training. We demand a significant reduction of police in schools, with a redirection of funding towards student services that have been shown to be effective: resources such as counselors, nurses, restorative justice programs, and whole systems that support students’ lives.

Many of you have already shared the video of this incident on social media. We ask that you please keep sharing the video, as well as this statement.

We will no longer stand by and accept police violence in our communities or in our schools. UPDATE: Join us on Tuesday, May 17 at 4pm for a rally & speak out in support of Brian at 440 N. Broad Street. More information on the Facebook event page.

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