On Monday, April 11, about 100 people attended a screening of the award winning documentary “On These Grounds”. The documentary focuses on a viral video of a white School Resource Officer body slamming a 16-year-old, disabled Black girl, and was screened at the Somerville Theatre by organizers in Justice for Flavia with permission from Represent Justice. Following the film screening there was a panel discussion moderated by Flavia Peréa—including Erin Stewart of the Center for Juvenile Justice, Boston Public Schools educator Lena Papagiannis, and Jay Blitzman, former first justice of the Massachusetts Juvenile Court, Middlesex Division.
Stewart explained the danger associated with having police officers in schools even when they follow all legal guidelines, “For all of the anecdotes I’ve heard of police being good as school resource officers, there are other professionals that can play those roles much better without the harms that we see with SROs. … Part of the problem is that kids feel like they can trust school resource officers. They tell them things, but they don’t realize everything they say can be used against them in a court of law.”
After the panel, Justice for Flavia organizer Sara Halawa had this to say about how the criminalization of children takes place in Somerville Public Schools, “The majority of students in our schools are of color. Some of them are undocumented. Many have been intimidated by police in school, some arrested and traumatized not just by SROs, but SPDs ‘community police’ as well. Somerville has not earned its reputation as somehow being an exception to systemic racism in this country.”
Sarah Haberlack, an audience member and volunteer for the Boston Liberation Center expressed her gratitude to organizers after the event, “I’m proud of the work Justice for Flavia has done over the past year to keep the issue of school policing on the minds of Somerville residents. The violence displayed in ‘On These Grounds’ was difficult to watch at times, but our city really needed to see this.” Other audience members included two school committee members Sara Phillips and Laura Pitone as well as Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven.
A Special Policing Subcommittee of the Somerville School Committee has been meeting regularly since January in response to demands from Justice for Flavia to put a permanent end to the policing of Somerville students by both school resource officers and community police. Justice for Flavia is an organization of local parents, community organizers, and legal experts that formed after a 2019 incident in which Flavia Peréa’s then-six-year-old son was reported to the police by faculty of Albert F. Argenziano School.
Justice for Flavia organizers are urging Somerville residents to contact Somerville Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper, their school committee members and the subcommittee on policing and let them know that our community does not want cops in our schools.
Photo credit: Sara Halawa
Matthew Kennedy is a member of the organization Justice for Flavia.