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'Do not call the police': Parents speaking out after video shown at Denver South High School

Denver Public Schools
Posted at 9:45 PM, Aug 24, 2022

DENVER — Parents are questioning why Denver South High School showed a video to the student body on Tuesday, offering tips about ways to respond to racist attacks. Part of the video encourages people to not call the police for help.

It’s a video that’s not sitting well with some parents and guardians.

“I think that it’s not appropriate,” said Angele Muhigirwa.

Muhigirwa’s niece is a sophomore at Denver South. She feels it puts all police officers, even the good ones, in a bad light.

“They’re the ones that are trained to help that kind of situation out. And parents or students shouldn’t feel like they can’t come to them for assistance for help,” Muhigirwa said. “Not all officers' intentions are to harm people of color.”

Denver Public Schools said as of last year, Denver South High School had 1,763 students — 47.2% were white, 32.3% were Hispanic, 9.4% were Black, 4.9% were Asian, 0.9% were American Indian or Alaska native, and 0.1% were native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders.

'Do not call the police': Parents speaking out after video shown at DPS high school

Denver South principal Rachel Goss posted a letter to the school website Wednesday, saying the intention behind the video was to provide empowerment for people who may witness these types of attacks and not to have any sort of negative impact on the relationship between Denver Public Schools and Denver police.

In a statement, Denver Public Schools said the district has connected with Denver Police Department leadership about the video.

On Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, Denver South High showed a video, “Don't be a Bystander: 6 Tips for Responding to Racist Attacks” to the student body. The video, not created by the school or the district, offers a variety of approaches for how an active bystander can deal with a negative situation involving a person who identifies as belonging to a marginalized community. The video was not fully vetted prior to its viewing.

One of the six points in the video offers suggestions for possible interventions that do not include contacting law enforcement. While some communities of color report that they are over-policed and disproportionately impacted by the presence of law enforcement, nonetheless, there are some narratives in this video that we do not subscribe to in DPS.

Denver Public Schools understands the importance of ensuring the safety of students, families and educators. Our continued collaboration along with the evolving relationship we have with the Denver Police Department are important parts of that effort. We have connected directly with the leadership of DPD about this matter and look forward to our continued work with them. This includes the opportunity to support the Police Establishing Equitable Relationships with Students (PEERS program) that will work to reform policing with intentional, targeted relationship building.

“I think if a video was going to be shown, the parents had a right to know it was going to be shown,” said Denver South parent Antoinette Garcia-Bate.

Sgt. Carla Havard, president of the Denver Black Police Officer’s Organization issued a statement to Denver7, saying in part, "It's evident that the intent of sharing this video was not to drive a wedge between groups who are working towards change; however it highlighted the need for additional conversations about marginalized communities and the police."

It’s understandable that this may be the experience of some as we acknowledge the historic and contentious relationship between police and communities of color especially as incidents continue to occur across the nation.

There is certainly still a need to bring attention to some of the disconnects and disparities between these communities, however it is very important that we capture the racial and bias events that may be still occurring to ensure accountability and justice. Reporting these incidents also serves as a warning for those who often operate without impunity and ensures that these egregious acts will not be tolerated.

We encourage the support of any victim of a crime however interjecting yourself into a highly volatile and unpredictable event is not encouraged as you may find yourself a target of the hate and violence.

It’s evident that the intent of sharing this video was not to drive a wedge between groups who are working towards change; however it highlighted the need for additional conversations about marginalized communities and the police. This organization stands ready to assist in authentic and legitimate conversations about these very important topics. 

Also, this organization supports the DPD and its efforts related to Bias Motivated (hate crimes) crimes and condemns this administrator's action regardless of claimed intent. We are aware of the national conversation surrounding the issues involving the police however DPD officers are not trained to view marginalized communities as criminals.  

The video was created in 2017 by the Barnard Center for Research on Women, which is based out of New York City.

In a statement, the Denver Police Foundation said, "It is reprehensible of them to include a tip that specifically states not to contact police while simultaneously telling students they should put themselves front and center of the exchange."

The Denver Police Foundation is dismayed to learn that yesterday, at South High School, during an all-school assembly, a video played by school administration directly communicated to their students to NOT call police if they witness a bias-motivated attack. This video, lasting just under 4 minutes, provided students 6 tips and commentary by the narrator on how to respond to biased and racist attacks.

While it is commendable of school administration to educate students relative to possible responses to racial attacks at school, it is reprehensible of them to include a tip that specifically states not to contact police while simultaneously telling students they should put themselves front and center of the exchange. Sharing this advice is irresponsible as, first and foremost, there are bias-motivated acts that are mandatory report situations and delayed reporting causes more harm to the victim. It also puts students in situations they are not trained to handle. Additionally, it discourages cooperation of the victim, potentially leading to no accountability of the offender and their behavior, and lastly, it portrays officers as the problem in the situation.

The decision by administration to show this video to the more than 1,700 students and staff of South High was capricious. The message in this type of video continues to manipulate the narrative of law enforcement’s relationship with the community. Showing a video that states “police have been trained to see people of color, gender nonconforming folks and Muslims as criminal” and that “they often treat victims as perpetrators of violence” is not only a blatant misrepresentation of the training received by the Denver Police Department and law enforcement as a whole, but it also encourages anti police attitudes. South High should be a leader in DPS schools, educating their students on how to be responsible stewards in the community. Instead, today, administration chose to perpetuate a toxic, dangerous and potentially violent rhetoric. Students, parents, staff, administration, and the community should be appalled by this behavior.

The Denver Police Foundation supports and commends South High School for engaging their student body in learning how to combat, mitigate and act in the face of terrifying acts of bias motivated crimes against those in their community, but showing a video that asks their students to directly engage in a potentially violent situation with no training or expertise on how to deescalate AND telling them not to call police is beyond disappointing and discouraging. South High should welcome law enforcement to their assemblies so students can directly hear from and ask officers what they should do to keep themselves AND the victim safe. We would encourage South and other schools looking to educate their students to call upon experts in the field, both law enforcement and hate crime prevention focused, to come speak and educate their students, instead of showing one sided, biased, outdated videos.

DPS says its expectation is that this video will not be shown again.