Young mothers brutalized, hauled out, arrested for peaceful sit-in to save Catherine Ferguson Academy April 15, 2011

Cops slam Ashley Matthews against police car; she has two-year-old daughter


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.

Inside Catherine Ferguson Academy in happier times

“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.

Catherine Ferguson student working on well-publicized urban farm

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

Matthews said she has a two-year-old daughter, Breanna.

Teacher and young male supporter arrested

“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.’”

Cops brought out canine unit: who let the dogs (and cops) out?

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.”

Supporters chanted "NO NO, LET THEM GO!"

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.

Cop arrests picketer

“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.

Huge cops push 100-lb. Ashley toward car

“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.

Supporter is horrified at brutality

“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.

Police rousted demonstrators too

“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.

Eighth Precinct police station

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.”

Catherine Ferguson Academy before the police raid

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.

Donna Stern organizing support outside Catherine Ferguson

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.


Supporters of students vow to continue fight


Carole Kronberg of Detroit speaking at Board of Police Commissioners meeting

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! 


Thank you.




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
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. 

Steve Conn
Defend Public Education / Save Our Students


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·  You can also text follow steveconn231 to this phone number: 40404

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  4. Mariana says:

    I just read about this awesome school in the book ‘City Farmer’ – so sad to hear it’s closing but awesome too to see young women fighting for justice! Resistance is fertile!
    Kia Kaha (Stand Strong) from a gardener New Zealand.

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  6. Cat says:

    Ok so these students were”fighting” for their school and a right to education. Did they do it under the guidelines of the law? Did they get the permits (if required or as required by local codes and laws) to have their protest? Was the occupation of the school a legal or an illegal act ? Further while they want to point the bad person finger at the cops, were they themselves being the same?

    I understand their plight, I put my self thru night school, worked a full time job while I was pregnant and had a toddler in tow. So yes I understand but I do not think that their circumstance nor their cause, is helped all that much, other than the attention it garnered, which frankly could have been done as well by legal means.

    Oh the big bad cops…. yawn. I don’t know maybe Detroit has bad cops, but the cops are not the bad guys here. If you asked them personally what they thought about the “situation” if they were like the cops were I live they would probably say that they did not like the situation for several reasons. The cops in fact probably agree whole heartedly with the concept behind the school and what it is doing, for they better than most know the realities and circumstances of mothers who cannot get a job because of a lack of education. Further you can bet as they were going to the situation most if not all of them were probably dreading having to get involved. But cops unlike the rest of us do not get a choice as to obeying the law or doing their job as their job is enforcing the laws and when someone breaks them arresting them. If they do not, they get fired, because life is not like the movies. If you resist a cop while your getting arrested they will respond back, if you struggle they will respond to the struggle as needed to put you under arrest. If you talk nasty guess what they can talk nasty back. And just because your a mother or pregnant does not grant you any special treatment or dispensation from this.

    You have a cause, it is worthy, you have the right to have a legal protest, so have one, but you do not have the right to take over a public building such as a school that belongs to the public or a government organization… that is the law. If you are going to break the law then you need to be prepared to accept the consequences for doing so. If your going to do an illegal action the you should be prepared to be arrested and even get roughed up a bit if you offer resistance when arrested. Life’s a bitch isn’t it.

    • Randell says:

      Cat, aren’t we glad you weren’t around during the civil rights movement to give pep talks and encouragement! As was shown during that time, sometimes a radical- technically illegal- action has to happen to let the powers that be know that play time is over. Sometimes trying to rationalize with an irrational person or group of people doesn’t allow for anything to be accomplished except raised blood pressure and still no solution. Time will tell what kind of attention the governor will turn to this matter.

      As for the police, lets be clear on something. Yes, the police were doing their duty by arresting the protesters. They were given an order and were bound to obey it. Most people can not fault them there. However, those orders could have been carried out with a measure of kindness and understanding, if as you suggest, many of them were sympathetic to the cause. Their actions, however, do not suggest sympathy or understanding. The smashing of cell phones? The refusal to give back personal property after release? The taunting? Yawn. My common sense tells me these police officers weren’t the least bit sympathetic to what was going on and the community should call them on it.

    • Dan Mortenson says:

      Cat, there are levels of justice. One level of it is defined by laws, and another one is defined by people’s perceptions of what’s right. In the case of the Catherine Ferguson arrests, the police were the ones sticking by the law. The protesters, on the other hand, were doing what is right.

      I have no problem defining it that way, and the police don’t either — not really. THAT is why they smashed the cell phones — to prevent the outrage that would come from people viewing what happened. If they truly had justice on their side, there would be no such concern, because real justice is not amenable to misinterpretation.

      People don’t really get that upset from witnessing force being used, or from seeing other people arrested (you are an example). They get upset when they see that it was unjust to do so.

      I’m curious: when it is YOUR school the cops are charged with closing, or YOUR city government that’s being wiped out and replaced with a corrupt, autocratic “city manager,” what will be your reaction then? And will it be too little, too late?

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  12. Betsy Martin says:

    As a retired DPS secretary I have watched Robert Bobb systematically undermine what structure was left of the Detroit Public Schools. Throughout his whole campaign to “improve” the financial situation he has paid little attention to what is best for the schools and more importantly the children of the city of Detroit. Schools with excellent educational successes such as Catherine Ferguson and Communication and Media Arts High School have been rewarded by having their existence threatened. In Communication and Media Arts case they were rescued by a television makeover, as far as Catherine Ferguson goes I hope and pray that a lot of negative publicity aimed at our “executive financial mananger” and positive publicity for Catherine Ferguson’s great educational program will help preserve this Detroit educational jewel. What is going on in this city when the reward for a job more than well done is to have your school closed?

    The horibble treatment of the protestors at Catherine Ferguson are a clear indication of the prevailing attitude towards students of the Detroit Public Schools. Why should these students have to fight and be abused in order to try to obtain the high school diploma and the opportunity to go to college. I am waiting to hear Mayor Bing and Governor Snyder speak up and decry the handling of this situation. If I don’t it will erase any doubt in my mind that politicos in Lansing have a plan to remake Detroit, including attacking its schools, a plan that is being put in place without any consideration for the rights of the citizens of the city.

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  16. I don’t know much about the politics of Detroit or Michigan, but I do know two things. First, these girls have as much right to a quality education as my kids do. And second, their babies need to be told some day just how proud they should be of their moms.

  17. Elizabeth Kushigian says:

    I am following this story daily, and want to be among those supporting these courageous young women and their teachers.
    As for Robert Bobb: Forbes Magazine sums it up best:

    “So who is Robert Bobb?
    It turns out, he’s a recent graduate of the Broad Foundation’s Superintendent Academy. The Broad Foundation, along with the Kellogg Foundation, pays Bobb $145,000 a year on top of his $280,000 government salary. For those of you not familiar with Broad, it is one of the leading foundations promoting school choice and privatization across the country. One might almost think that paying a public official hundreds of thousands of dollars a year might amount to nothing short of bribery, especially given the very specific agenda of a foundation like the Broad Foundation.”

    So, you see, this man, and the corporate influence that wants to buy and destroy our democracy, they both have to go, and to get rid of them we’ll have to fight long and hard.

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  20. Lucas says:

    The world is watching. You’re a light that shines. Greetings from Europe.

  21. Mark L. Taylor says:

    Thank you students and faculty for your courage, clarity and grace under abusive pressure. When I watched the video on YouTube I was outraged at how the police cranked up their sirens to drown out the chanting; who are they to smother out the right to free speech and free assembly? But in an odd way, the mindless, repetitive wail of the sirens become a chant for what is happening in this nation; mindless whining power saying nothing.
    The police really need to examine their training, policies and hearts. While they may have succeeded in destroying cell phones they have been unsuccessful at suppressing the story. In fact, their clumsy attempts to silence have propelled the story much further and farther than it would have gone originally.
    In solidarity,
    Mark L. Taylor
    Genoa, WI 54632

  22. Obwan says:

    This account sickens me. What is happening to America? What has happened to the ideals of your Founding Fathers, of a republic based on equity and opportunity for all, a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.

    From here in Australia, the other side of the world, these actions against public education, teachers and students resemble the repression of dictators and theocrats.

    It is an absolute disgrace and the political leaders responsible should hang their heads in shame. Do they really understand what actions like this do to the reputation of the USA? Do they care that they are causing the rest of the civilized world to regard America as barbaric country: denying education, health care and decent working conditions to the least of its citizens?

    Shame on them.

    Keep up the good fight teachers, students, children and parents of Catherine Ferguson Academy.

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  24. Dude Dudeman says:

    Good for the protesters. In this case, the Detroit pigs have exposed themselves as mindless, robotic tools of the oppressors. Taking lasagna away from hungry protesters? That’s downright evil & cruel. But many of these pigs are morons who barely graduated from high school themselves, and now are carrying out the brutal policies of an idiocracy. Rest assured, their bad karma will repay them generously in the future.

  25. Teretha Pugh says:

    This is shameful. These girls are trying to become productive citizens. What is wrong with giving them a chance? With an education they are not likely to see their children become a burden on the system. Can’t we as a cou try use our heads to make us the best country on the planet? If you think we are now the best country on the planet, then what happening at this school should not be happening.

  26. Pat Fagan says:

    When we look at what is going on in this country and then look at the concious redistribution of wealth over the last 30 years the answer is obvious. We in the middle class are spineless. We try to hold on to what we have and sit back. We need the courage of these young women and we need to WAKE UP and stand up before the very wealthy control it all and we have no voice left.

  27. Lillian says:

    Mr. Robb has only his party’s ideology in mind. Bet he campaigned on “improving education” while the real plan is to destroy public education.
    Stand tall girls–we need more schools like this one everywhere in America and if the 2% richest people/corporations would pay their fair share of taxes, we could.
    If you voted for Mr. Robb or any one of his followers, you need to get out and learn the real facts about these people!

  28. Jim Casha says:

    Robert Bobb has no idea of how to fix Detroit’s education problem. If he did, Catherine Ferguson Academy would be the last school he would shut down. In fact, what needs to be done is the CFA model duplicated and expanded all over the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan. Rick Snyder said in his State of the State address that prenatal care was needed to fix the education system – and he is right. Proper prenatal care, including proper nutrition and, pregnant girls and women abstaining from alcohol consumption before and during pregnancy, is the only way the future generations will have a chance. But girls, better to NOT get pregnant.

    This school is needed and these kids need to be given the opportunity to set up and live in productive, sustainable, agricultural and food production/processing communities. Homes and jobs, jobs that can be created at will for anyone willing to participate – that’s what these kids need – not to be abused and arrested by the police.

    It can be done. And if the ‘leaders’ of the city and state can’t figure out how to do it – they need to get out of the way and let someone in who can.

    Didn’t they see what happened in Tunisia, when all a poor student wanted to do, was raise and sell a few fruits and vegetables?

    If anyone wants to know how it can be done, you can email me at

  29. Jerri says:

    As a Detroiter, I am so so proud of these girls! I wish I had been able to attend the protest. The closing of this school shows with out a doubt that Robert Bob no longer has the best interest of our children in mind.

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