Local high school students protest Atherton Police, march through El Camino Real

May 5, 2023, 12:18 a.m.

This story contains references to physical violence.

High school student protesters marched up and down El Camino Real in the pouring rain on Wednesday, chanting “Black Lives Matter!” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!” Members of Stanford’s Students for the Liberation of All People (SLAP) joined them in protest.

Menlo-Atherton High School (M-A) Black Student Union (BSU) members organized the protest to raise awareness for their petition to implement policies aimed at mitigating police brutality in educational contexts after an administrator called the police on a Black student last Friday afternoon. During the incident, the police pinned and detained two students on the ground.

The BSU created the petition, detailing requests such as mandatory in-person de-escalation training for community members, during a Monday lunch meeting, according to BSU advisor Chloe Gentile-Montgomery. Gentile-Montgomery said that the “tone of the meeting was somber” and that students feel “confused, upset, angry” and “nervous that this could’ve happened to them.”

“I teach ethnic studies and U.S. history, and in both my classes we’ve been learning about police brutality,” Gentile-Montgomery said. “To have such a stark example happen across the street from our school is heartbreaking.”

Videos of the incident, which were uploaded by the school’s student newspaper the M-A Chronicle and taken by M-A students Mahki Tippins, Linda Gabele, Louise Gabele and the sibling of the student who was pinned down, have amassed 40,000 views on Instagram. The videos show the police arresting the M-A student, who yelled, “You can’t take me, I’m a minor.” The police officers then pinned the student to the ground, handcuffing him and putting him in the police car.

In an update, M-A’s Principal Karl Losekoot said, “You cannot watch the video from the police interaction and say it is not troubling. It is. Unfortunately, on social media, many misconceptions and inaccurate assumptions are being made.”

The police released a news flash yesterday with their report of the incident, saying, “The student physically assaulted a school administrator by pushing them into a cubicle wall, tried to push the administrator’s glasses off their face, spit on them, and called them derogatory homophobic slurs.” The report also said that “officers used the least amount of force to detain the student,” and that “this incident is being reviewed to ensure the involved officers’ actions were lawful and in compliance with Police Department policy and procedures.”

The Daily has reached out to the Atherton Police Department for comment.

According to the police report, the conflict between the administrator and the student was about getting a confiscated water gun back. Administrators called the police after the student left the office. The police detained the student at the bus stop.

Losekoot wrote in an email to M-A students that “site administrators did call for police department support due to an interaction with a student that escalated to the level that our site team felt concerned for their safety, as there was physical contact made against one of our site leaders along with several verbal threats made towards that staff member.”

The Daily has reached out to Menlo-Atherton High School for comment.

The protest started at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at the M-A campus before crossing the train tracks into downtown Menlo Park, where protestors then marched up El Camino Real and back down to M-A.

BSU president and sophomore Apollo Jackson led chants during the march using a megaphone. Jackson said later that his hope for the protest’s outcome is for “everyone to feel safe here, and that’s it, honestly.”

Eboni Freeman, a freshman and BSU member, helped organize the protest. “I hope that the police department acknowledges what they did,” Freeman said. “Right now, all we know is you pinned down a child for no reason at all, other than the fact that he walked away from you.”

Protestors carrying signs march down a street
The protestors marched from Menlo-Atherton High School to downtown Menlo Park, through El Camino Real and back to the high school, chanting phrases such as “Black Lives Matter!” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!” (Photo: SOPHIA ARTANDI/The Stanford Daily)

The BSU’s petition demands in-person de-escalation training for everyone on campus, increased transparency, the hiring of an additional counselor and more Black staff, training for student conflict mediators and a clear job description for the School Resource Officer (SRO). The BSU will present the petition at the upcoming Sequoia Union District Board Meeting on May 10.

Gentile-Montgomery said that the student was allowed to leave the office, and that police were called as they left. She added that she doesn’t think the student should have been able to leave campus following the incident.

“[The student] should’ve been held on campus until [the people in the office] were able to contact someone who could de-escalate him,” Gentile-Montgomery said. “My understanding is that no one in the office was trained in de-escalation, [which is] a major disservice.”

Around 25 adults in orange vests controlled traffic so that the group of around 100 protesters could march safely. Many of the adults present were parents of M-A students, including Jackson’s mother, Yvonne Murray. Murray explained that she was assisting the students to “[help] this be a safe protest.”

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) member and Millbrae Vice Mayor Maurice Goodman joined the march to support the students’ efforts to make their voices heard by the Sequoia Union High School District.

“A lot of the decisions that are being made district-wide […] impact our young people,” Goodman said, “and our young people should have input.”

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