March 2, 2024
This piece was originally published by the Denver Gazette. It is republished with their kind permission.

This piece was originally published by the Denver Gazette. It is republished with their kind permission.

Students at Denver’s South High School were shown a video that explicitly warned against calling the police in the case of a racist or transphobic attack, claiming law enforcement officers have been trained to view members of minority groups as “perpetrators of violence.”

“Armed police presence often escalates, rather than reduces, the risk of violence in a situation,” the video’s narrator says. “Because police have been trained to see people of color, gender nonconforming folks, and Muslims as criminals, they often treat victims as perpetrators of violence.”

The narrator adds: “So, if the victim hasn’t asked you to call the police, do not — I repeat — do not call the police.”

The video, titled “Don’t be a Bystander: 6 Tips for Responding to Racist Attacks,” was shown on Tuesday, the first day of school, to students huddled inside a gym.

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In a statement, the Denver Police Foundation criticized school authorities for showing the video to students, calling it “dismaying” and “reprehensible.”

“While it is commendable of school administration to educate students relative to possible responses to racial attacks at school, it is reprehensible of them to include a tip that specifically states not to contact police while simultaneously telling students they should put themselves front and center of the exchange,” the foundation said.

“Sharing this advice is irresponsible as, first and foremost, there are bias-motivated acts that are mandatory report situations and delayed reporting causes more harm to the victim. It also puts students in situations they are not trained to handle. Additionally, it discourages cooperation of the victim, potentially leading to no accountability of the offender and their behavior, and lastly, it portrays officers as the problem in the situation.”

Rachel Goss, the school’s principal, acknowledged the video was shared with students in a message posted on the school’s website.

“I am writing this note to emphasize that the intention behind the video was to provide empowerment for people who may witness these types of attacks, not to have any sort of negative impact on the longstanding relationship between the Denver Public Schools and the Denver Police Department,” Goss wrote.

Goss said the video “offers suggestions for possible interventions that do not include contacting law enforcement.”

“As Principal of Denver South High School, I remain committed to working with and continue to strengthen this partnership between our school and members of law enforcement. Please know that, as a school community, we are intent on ensuring the safety of all though partnering with the DPS Dept. of Safety and Denver Police,” Goss said.

“South is dedicated to fulfilling all responsibilities of being mandatory reporters of suspected mistreatment, including abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation. Our efforts include our continued partnering with and reporting to the appropriate entities.”

The incident is the latest in a tumultuous relationship between Denver Public Schools and law enforcement. The DPS Board of Education voted in 2020 to remove school resource officers from campuses.

On its website, Denver South describes itself as committed to being “anti-racist” and to “dismantling systemic and structural racism in education, creating academic access, and facilitating success to Black and all Students of Color.”

The video has been viewed roughly 43,000 times since it was posted on YouTube in 2017. Produced by the Barnard Center for Research on Women, the video’s creators said it offers an “an abolitionist approach to bystander intervention that does not rely on the police.”

Founded in 1971, the New York City-based center says it brings scholars and activists together to advance “intersectional social justice feminist analyses and to promote social transformation.”

The video begins by saying the United States has a “long history of violence” against people of color, the disabled, Muslims, immigrants, and LGBTQ individuals. It also shows images of historical discrimination, such as a white woman pointing to a sign that says, “JAPS KEEP MOVING. This is A WHITE MAN’S NEIGHBORHOOD,” and photos of police arresting black women.

The video offers several tips to bystanders who witness a racist or transphobic attack, such as talking to the victim, not provoking the perpetrator, and documenting the incident if it is safe to do so and the victim doesn’t object.

The video also suggests supporting the victim by “sticking around.”

Tip No. 4, the video says, is to “avoid the police.”

The Denver Police Foundation called Denver South’s decision to show the video to its 1,700 students and staffers “capricious.”

“Showing a video that states ‘police have been trained to see people of color, gender nonconforming folks and Muslims as criminal’ and that ‘they often treat victims as perpetrators of violence’ is not only a blatant misrepresentation of the training received by the Denver Police Department and law enforcement as a whole, but it also encourages anti police attitudes,” the group said.

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“South High should be a leader in DPS schools, educating their students on how to be responsible stewards in the community. Instead, today, administration chose to perpetuate a toxic, dangerous and potentially violent rhetoric. Students, parents, staff, administration, and the community should be appalled by this behavior.”

Goss said the safety and well-being of students and staffers is the school’s “top priority.”

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