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‘Don’t call police’ video shown to high school students

<i>KCNC</i><br/>An assembly at South High School advised students to avoid police when dealing with racially motivated attacks.
An assembly at South High School advised students to avoid police when dealing with racially motivated attacks.

By Jamie Leary

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    DENVER (KCNC) — Denver Public Schools is in hot water with law enforcement after a video shown during an assembly at South High School advised students to avoid police when dealing with racially motivated attacks.

The video entitled “Don’t be a Bystander: 6 Tips for Responding to Racist Attacks” was published five years ago by the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

“I thought at some points it was pretty informative but other points? I thought it was kind of, like, awkward to talk about. Like it felt a little uncomfortable,” said Chavelle Early, a junior at South High.

Some of the tips advised students to check in on the victim of the attack, to avoid engaging the perpetrator and to try and de-escalate at all costs.

The video’s “Tip No. 4” says to avoid the police because police can escalate, and “often treat victims as perpetrators of crimes.”

“Unfortunately what I saw enhances the divide that we’re all trying to bridge,” said Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen. “I don’t know what type of impact it’s going to have you can’t un-ring the bell. People can’t unsee what was shown.”

Pazen said DPD is always willing to come speak to schools on these subjects and has placed a special emphasis on tackling racially motivated crimes. The Denver Police Foundation issued its own statement expressing disappointment, and concern over the implications:

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.

Denver Public Schools admitted Wednesday that “the video was not fully vetted” before it was shown to the entire student body.

Tuesday evening, South High Principal, Rachel Goss, wrote a letter to families expressing concern over the video, and read in part, I am writing this note to emphasize that the intention behind the video was to provide empowerment for people who may witness these types of attacks, not to have any sort of negative impact on the longstanding relationship between the Denver Public Schools and the Denver Police Department.

DPS said it has reached out to Denver police leadership about the issue and says it plans to work on ways to continue to strengthen its relationship between students and law enforcement.

“The decision might not have been the best, it could have been thought over at least one more time before they presented it but they’re at least trying to put something positive out there,” said Early.

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