13 ARRESTED IN HEROIC ACTION, BUT VOW THAT FIGHT CONTINUES
By Diane Bukowski
DETROIT – In an interview with VOD, Ashley Matthews, 17, described the heroic student-led occupation of her school, Catherine Ferguson Academy on April 15. She spoke of the wholehearted support the young mothers received from the community, as well as the vicious physical and verbal brutality police visited on them during their arrests.
She said two toddlers, there with their mothers, watched the events.
“When I came home, my mom and step-dad watched us on the news,” Matthews said. “My mom broke out in tears when she saw how the police treated me. She told me, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ This was the most joyful moment of my life. I was so flabbergasted by all the support and I felt so much pride because I actually stood up for something I believe in.”
Catherine Ferguson is a Detroit Public School for teens with children, or who are expecting. It provides special support services to help them complete their education and go on to college. It received broad publicity last year for the urban farm the students themselves created in the surrounding area.
It is the only school of its kind in the country, but it is on the list of almost 60 schools that DPS czar Robert Bobb, board chair Anthony Adams, and their state cronies, have slated for the chopping block this June, either through closure, merger or charterization. (See VOD article at http://voiceofdetroit.net/?p=6372)
Matthews said she has a two-year-old daughter, Breanna.
“The girls bring their kids to school because we don’t have anyone else to watch them,” said Matthews. “What else are we going to do? Ninety percent of our students graduate, and most of them go on to two and four year colleges. Our principal tells us ‘smart mothers make smart children.’”
She said she is four classes away from graduation, but does not know if the students who sat in will be allowed back. She said she decided they needed to fight to save their school, and approached the organization By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) for support.
“The day before, I packed up all my stuff, my clothes and food, because I thought we were going to stay for a week,” Matthews said. “I left my daughter with my mom and dad. We were inside making signs and calls, going on Facebook, and putting stuff up in the windows. We hooked up speakers in the windows so we could voice our demands.”
She said she was “surprised” when she saw how many people demonstrated outside in their support. She said the supporters passed lasagna through the windows, but that they didn’t even get a chance to eat it because the police got there first. Supporters at first blocked numerous police cars from entering the school’s back lot.
“When we heard the police were coming, we ran to the library as fast as we could and barricaded ourselves in there. The police knocked on the window, and before we knew it, they busted open the library door. We all got in a line and held hands. We took a vote because we wanted to be democratic and we decided not to leave. We chose to stick together, we came together and we were staying together. We were chanting, ‘Whose schools? Our schools!’ The whole time I was recording everything on my phone.”
She said the cop who arrested her, a Detroit police officer named R. Brown, saw that she was recording the events and snatched the phone away. She said Detroit Public Schools officers also took part in the attacks.
“I had sat down, and he yanked me up and slammed me down on my stomach on the floor,” Matthews said. “All the girls went berserk, telling him to get off me, but he was just wiping up the floor with me. He pressed his thumbs in my neck, and he tightened the handcuffs so hard that I have bruises there. I cried at first but then I made myself stop.”
Matthews said she weighs only 100 lbs. and is often mistaken for being much younger because she is so small.
“The officer pushed me up against the police car, with my face against it, and put me in it,” Matthews said. “They police didn’t read us our rights even though they told us we were under arrest. Then they were playing ‘good cop, bad cop,’ asking, ‘does your mom know you’re going to jail?’ I told them ‘She knows, I’m fighting for my education, and I want a lawyer.’ I wouldn’t talk to them any more after that.”
But Matthews said the police “verbally assaulted” them the whole way to the Eighth Precinct at Schaefer and Grand River.
“All the officers were so rude to us you would have thought we had killed somebody,” she said. “They asked us, ‘do you have money, because you’re going to be in jail all weekend.’ They told me it was good I’m 17, because I would have to go on the ‘big block’ and I’d better not be talking that ‘education stuff’ there. They were so mad because it was females standing up. But we have the right to fight for our school, and we were non-violent.”
She said the students felt absolutely “degraded” by the treatment they received from the police.
The students, represented by attorney Joyce Schon, were released that evening from the garage in the precinct, where they were forced to sit during their detention. During their arrests, their cell phones were taken, and many left without their shoes or jackets because the police would not allow them to get them. Matthews said she received a ticket for “trespassing and being in the school after hours.”
She said they plan to go back to get their possessions at the school this week.
“We ran out the jail to so many people hugging us, and telling us how proud they were of us,” Matthews said.
“It’s all over You Tube and Facebook now, and I hope everyone sees how the police treated females in my school,” Matthews said. “All my friends were contacting me on Facebook when I got home and asking what I got arrested for. It’s time for all of us to stand up, it’s our future. We can’t find another school that does what Catherine Ferguson does. I am thankful to BAMN and our supporters because they truly showed us we do have a sense of hope, that there is something you can do about what happens.”
She said her mother was a single mom too, and taught her to be strong, to do the best she could.
“Robert Bobb doesn’t understand how we have to work hard to get an education to get to where we want to go, because he never had to do it,” Matthews said.
“The fight’s not over, not as long as any school is on that list,” she said. “We are going to fight in a respectable, peaceful way for my school and for every school. I owe it to myself, to my classmates, to my daughter, to my mom and dad. I still love my school, and the Detroit Public Schools, and I am a proud citizen of Detroit.”
Monica Smith (at left during earlier protest) went inside Catherine Ferguson with its students to occupy the school while other BAMN organizers rallied support outside. She was among those arrested.
“We are encouraging students everywhere to take up the fight to save their schools,” Smith said.
“The students are in great spirits and they all say they would do it again. We are completely against these policies getting rid of public education and closing schools like Catherine Ferguson, Moses Field, Carlton, Rutherford. Rutherford is for autistic children, and Carlton has over 500 students. Where are they going to put them? The other schools are filled. Evidently they want pregnant girls and mothers and disabled students to stay home.
Smith said a documentary filmmaker was also inside and arrested. She said the woman’s camera was seized during her arrest, then returned, but a sergeant at the police station seized it again and kept it. She said students were also filming events on their cell phones, many of which the police smashed on the ground, and that they are concerned about the preservation of the documentary film.
If police do erase the film, or have destroyed any other evidence, it is a violation of the law, according to various attorneys.
Smith said the sit-in was very well-organized, and that people from the community, including those from the Trumbullplex commune nearby, came to their assistance almost at once.
“There were two small kids in there, two years and four years old,” she said. “They gave the kids to the principal. But the police were totally brutal. They choked me twice, they choked a 100-lb. student, and they lifted up a teacher who took part in the sit-in by the pants. At the police station, they handcuffed us together on the floor of the garage. Everyone who was handcuffed has bruises on their wrists and arms. When I was dragged out, they pulled my handcuffs up so high I was on my toes.”
BAMN organizer and teacher Donna Stern said the police took everyone’s cell phones and smashed them on the floor, making the students really angry because their phones are their only way to stay in touch with their families and children.
“They don’t have that much money, and getting a new phone is a big deal,” Stern said.
She confirmed the accounts of Matthews and Smith regarding the brutal way in which the police treated the young women. She said the number of supporters outside kept growing, and that they followed the arrested students to the police station, where they kept protesting until their release.
VIDEO FROM WHICH ARREST PHOTOS WERE TAKEN IS ON YOU TUBE AT
SIGN PETITION TO SAVE CATHERINE FERGUSON AT http://www.grownindetroitmovie.com/school.php :
To All Detroit City Council Members
This is a concerned resident citizen’s request for action by the Council. Those Detroit Police who arrested peaceful defenders of Catherine Ferguson Academy (an excellent school, doing vitally important work, but slated for destruction by Robert Bobb) were NOT acting out of loyalty to the People or to the Bill of Rights! Apparently, they thought they were supposed to be OK with “politics by bulldozer!”
That school and all public schools rightfully belong to the People, because the People paid for them. All power flows from the People, and the People have made it quite clear that they DO NOT want their properties destroyed!
By the same token, We the People are opposed to the coming hostile State takeover which calls for YOU, our elected officials, to be swept away!
In its own best interest, and in the interest of the People, CITY COUNCIL NEEDS WITHOUT DELAY TO PASS A RESOLUTION CLARIFYING THE PROPER ROLE OF DETROIT POLICE: Detroit residents pay them (and the Council) to support, not arrest, our demands for Home Rule –rightful LOCAL sovereignty over LOCAL affairs!
If my father’s Uncle Gus were still on the Detroit Council, (He was an alderman and city clerk in the late 1800’s) I KNOW he would DEFEND –AS YOU SHOULD NOW– THE CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE OF DETROIT!
Carole A. Kronberg
Link to a Rachel Maddow show about Detroit Catherine Ferguson School fight, student occupations, and Robert Bobb.
Financial contributions are urgently needed! Go to http://www.bamn.com/1/donate.asp
Please help pay for the tickets and other legal expenses related to the Catherine Ferguson occupation and other protests.
Besides providing critical assistance to the young people who are the heroes of our city, these dollars are the smartest way to use your pocketbook to save teacher jobs !
In Detroit, there will be a mass meeting at 4:30 this Tuesday, April 26 with unions and community and civil rights groups. 19484 James Couzens.
Please note that the regular Saturday meeting of Defend Public Education / Save Our Students is cancelled due to the holiday and related scheduling problems.
See more video from the Catherine Ferguson struggle at our youtube site below.
Defend Public Education / Save Our Students
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