Students, supporters protest Philly school cop’s use of force on high schooler

More than 100 Philly students and their supporters rallied outside the School District of Philadelphia offices Tuesday to demonstrate against a school police officer’s use of force on a high school student.

Brian Burney, a student at Ben Franklin High School, thanked the protesters for their support.

“I feel real loved,” he said. “The students at our school are amazing… It’s the authority that’s not so great.”

Protesters were on the streets to call for retraining of school police, including “restorative justice” training programs that emphasize de-escalation. Some were calling for the school police officer involved in the encounter with Burney, who has been reassigned while a district investigation is under way, to be fired.

“To have a student say that he couldn’t breathe, in a chokehold by a school police officer? Not on our watch,” said City Councilwoman Helen Gym. “City Council stands against the use of any unnecessary or excessive force in our schools. We take this issue to be an issue of human and civil rights.”

School district officials have said the officer used a “restraining hold,” not a chokehold.

Gym and five other members of City Council issued a letter calling on the School District to condemn the use of force in this incident, publicly release directives and standards for school officers, and establish a complaint procedure for students.

The protest was sparked by an incident on May 5 in Ben Franklin High School when Burney went to the third floor bathroom between classes and was told he didn’t have the proper hall pass by a school police officer.

“We got into an argument,” said Burney, a member of the Philadelphia Students Union, a student advocacy group that organized the rally. “I threw an orange at the wall, but not at the officer, out of frustration. He punched me in the face. He knocked me down, brought me down to the ground and put me in a chokehold.”

A 13-second video posted online captured part of the incident, which shows the school police officer on top of Burney with his arm wrapped around his neck.

Burney sustained a concussion during the struggle, which school officials said was caused by him banging his own head on the ground.

“The investigation is ongoing,” School District spokesman Fernando Gallard said via email.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the union had previously asked the district to fund “restorative justice” training programs for all schools that would involve staff and students and teach de-escalation techniques.

“Restorative justice practices are a good example of being able to teach kids their responsibilities, and to train the adults on how to interact with the children when certain incidents occur,” Jordan said.

Jordan declined to comment on what should happen to the officer.

“He certainly is entitled to due process,” he said.

A fellow student of Burney’s said he was “hurt” but not surprised by the incident.

“Brian’s just a regular kid. He’s not a criminal,” said Amon Carey, 17, a junior at Ben Franklin. “School officers, they’re just dealing with us like criminals.”

“It’s sad that a lot of the students are accustomed to this.”

Watch video of the incident below.

Assault at Ben Franklin from Philly Student Union on Vimeo.