Last Thursday, after the large “Turn Up for Truth” rally organized by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers held at 440 N. Broad Street, staff and youth leaders of Youth United for Change were restricted from entering the School District, and eventually forced to leave the premises by District officers utilizing excessive means.
The staff and youth leaders of YUC wanted to attend the October 16th SRC meeting to publicly express our desire for high quality public education as well as stand in solidarity with Philadelphia teachers who experienced a flippant cancellation of their union contract a few days earlier. However, from the moment we marched to the entrance of the School District building, officers criminalized the youth, and were keen on prohibiting their entry.
YUC lined up to navigate the maze-like barriers in place controlling access to the public meeting. As we waited, staff and youth leaders were told initially only adults would be allowed to enter since there were fewer than 50 seats left. After some collective expressions of disapproval by those witnessing this unjust treatment, the officers at the gates relented, stating that they would rotate entry between adults and youth 10 at a time.
However, once a small contingent of YUC staff and youth leaders entered the building, they were quickly surrounded by officers who, reeling from the action students and staff from the Philadelphia Student Union held a day before, were looking to exact some punishment. Staff and students heard officers state “they were not going to let what happened yesterday happen again.” Essentially, these officers assumed all youth of color engaged in fighting for high quality education look and act the same. While we deeply and thoroughly support the work and resistance of PSU, and their attempt to expose the SRC propagandizing against teacher unionism, we did not participate in that action, and should not be punished for it.
As the officers approached YUC staff and students, they began unlawful searches of student property, and even manhandled a student for having masks in his bag. In this age where young people of color find their lives seriously undervalued by public safety officers, it is problematic and traumatizing to say the least for young folks to be gripped up for simply wanting to engage in their civic duty, and project their power and voices to those who claim to have their best interests in mind.
Out of concern for the safety of our young people, YUC staff would not leave the building until all the youth in our care were accounted for and unharmed. Officers became incensed and grabbed one of the staff in an intimidating way. She placed her hands up, reminiscent of Mike Brown, and proceeded to leave the premises with the young people in tow.
I am worried about our democracy when young people cannot attend public meetings without fearing being criminalized and subdued by individuals commissioned to “serve and protect.” Young people have the right to express their voice, and assemble for protest under the Constitution of the United States. Youth United for Change believes that all youth shall have the right to High Quality Public Education, therefore young people should be allowed to respectfully and creatively express their grievances over their education struggle in the presence of the SRC without being criminalized.
YUC does not want this to happen again. We will attend the SRC meetings consistently as active participants because it is our civic right. However, we demand that when YUC, PSU, or any young people enter 440 N. Broad, they are treated as invaluable human beings that contribute greatly to the vibrant nature of our democracy; not criminals who are problematic nuisances for the District.
Young people matter, and they should be treated accordingly.
We will see you soon.