Seattle teens brought traffic on Rainier Avenue to a standstill on Friday.
Calling for police reform and anti-racism in their schools, hundreds of students, families and teachers flooded the sidewalks, streets and a pedestrian bridge outside Franklin High School. The honks of approval from passing cars on Rainier did not stop for two hours. One man played his trombone while hanging outside a passenger seat window as he passed through the protest.
After standing and chanting on different street corners for more than an hour, the crowd — which included Denise Juneau, the Seattle schools chief — united in the middle of the street. They stopped to kneel a few blocks later, circling around a few people with a loud speaker chanting “Black Lives Matter,” “No justice, no peace,” and “I can’t breathe.” As the crowd wove through the stopped cars, drivers recorded the scene on their phones. One woman in an old beige Toyota Camry held her fist out with tears in her eyes as the protesters passed.
For the youth who attended — whose entire lives have been bookended by protest movements — it was the first time being around their classmates since the pandemic forced them apart. They’d been watching the demonstrations on Capitol Hill from home, many of them not allowed to attend out of concerns for their safety, or fear of the police. This was their moment to weigh in.
“We’re all fighting for the same cause,” said Jackie Jimenez, a Franklin High student and one of the organizers.
The demands of the student protest mostly mirrored those of the adult activists marching a few miles north: defunding the police, demilitarization of the police, and stronger laws governing law enforcement. They carried the same signs decrying the killings of Black men and women at the hands of police.
They also had ideas to change the school system, including the removal of a handful of armed officers stationed at schools across South Seattle, where the protest occurred and where the many of the city’s Black residents live. Since a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd late last month, some districts across the country have severed their ties with local police departments, including Portland Public Schools just this week.
“I think it’s toxic” to have police in schools, said Savannah Blackwell, a Franklin student who attended the protest with her younger sister. “It creates a culture of fear.”
The partnership between Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle police began 12 years ago, after the shooting deaths of five teens. The officers are supposed to interact with students informally, educate them on crime prevention and alleviate fear of law enforcement.
Opponents to these police-school district partnerships say having law enforcement at schools endangers students and opens the door for police to intervene in minor disciplinary issues. One year ago, a white teacher working in a school four miles away from the scene of the protest called the police on a black fifth grader because she said he threatened her.
A petition calling for the district to end the city-funded program has been circulating in the past week. The district says it is reevaluating the role of these officers in light of recent events and collecting more feedback from parents.
The other school-related demands included ethnic studies in all schools (a yearslong campaign) and anti-racism policies.
At the protest, superintendent Juneau seemed impressed by the demonstration.
“It’s good that they’re telling us what they want,” she said, slipping into the crowd.
Students are growing impatient for change, Jimenez, a senior, said. “For as long as I’ve been a student, the district has been coming to us and asking us what we can do.” Students have already answered, she said.
The protest ended with students making their way back toward the football field in front of Franklin High. Students, dressed in black, sat in clusters on the turf.
Students Zachary Sanders, Samuel Kassa, and Landon McColl said they were unsatisfied with the city’s response to protesters’ demands. But seeing the turnout today from their classmates made them somewhat more hopeful about the future.
Throughout the protest, a police car remained parked opposite the school. Two officers on motorcycle bikes briefly met students in the street, but did not appear to intervene further.