The chants are by now familiar: “No Justice, No Peace!” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” “I can’t breathe!”
But the repertoire today included a new call and response: “Change begins with what?” “Unity.”
In the past ten days, students at nearly 30 Denver schools have held protests to raise awareness about police brutality and discrimination in the wake of two deaths at the hands of police in Missouri and New York.
This afternoon, for the first time, students from a half dozen Denver high schools joined forces and marched to the capital with a list of demands for the City of Denver and Denver Public Schools.
More than 150 people, mostly teenagers, gathered at City Park after school to rally and make signs before they headed down Colfax Avenue.
The approach was different than the walk-outs the students had organized before. The protest started off of school grounds and after school hours.
The demands were also more specific than before: For the school district to hire more teachers of color to reflect the 70 percent of its students who are not white; for the city to hire a special prosecutor to try cases of police misconduct; for the school district to fund student-led discussions about race and create a special process for discipline issues among minorities. [See full list of demands and statistics from a flyer below.]
Both Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Mayor Michael Hancock have announced plans to host conversations about social justice and race in response to the student protests. Individual schools have also tried to capitalize on students’ passion: Juniors at Manual High School gave speeches to a small crowd that included police earlier today, and DSST: Cole is creating a social justice club.
Denver Public Schools officials said that while a few adults from the district joined the students this afternoon to ensure they were safe, the district did not provide buses or transportation as it had for students who left school earlier in the week.
A Facebook event promoting the protest was organized by students at East High, Denver School of the Arts, Strive Prep, Thomas Jefferson High School, and DCIS.
Their suggestion for how adults could help, per social media? Bring burritos.
But adult supporters showed up, both in the crowd and behind the bullhorn. One woman brought a sign that said “Thank you, students!” Representatives from Padres y Jovenes Unidos carried signs that said in Spanish, “I am a student, not a criminal.”
And a member of Aurora’s NAACP spoke to the crowd to laid out troubling statistics about policing in the city. Two men who had traveled to Ferguson encouraged students to be nonviolent—and to appreciate the protection of the police so far in Denver.
After a series of speeches and a song, one student took a bullhorn and told the crowd to prepare to head downtown. “Take a deep breath,” he said. “We have every right to be here.”
Here’s a full list of schools that have held protests since last Wednesday, according to Denver Public Schools:
- East High School
- West High School
- South High School
- North High School
- George Washington High School
- Abraham Lincoln High School
- John F. Kennedy High School
- DCIS @ Montbello
- Manual High School
- Evie Dennis Campus
- Bruce Randolph
- DSST @ Cole
- Stapleton HS and MS
- Farrel B. Howell
- Florida Pitt Waller
- High Tech Early College
- Strive Prep@ Montbello
- Marie L. Greenwood Academy
- Hamilton MS
- CPA @ Noel,
- Omar D. Blair
- Cesar Chavez
- Kepner Middle School
- Strive Prep @ SMART
- Srive Prep @ Remington Sunnyside
- CEC Middle College,
- Denver School of the Arts
- Morey Middle School
- GALS (Girls Athletic Leadership School)