Students and police involved in after school incident


Sara Hogenboom, News Writing Editor

Two police officers intervened in a play-fight between a group of students of color who were standing on the steps of the high school, after school on Tuesday March 8. Upon seeing the play-fight, a police officer pulled one senior by the backpack without first engaging in dialogue, according to eyewitness freshman Hassan Abdirahman.

The police officer who was Black, accompanied by another police officer who was White, were at the high school on unrelated business, according to Assistant Headmaster Hal Mason. The two officers came out of the main entrance and saw the students.

According to Abdirahman, the group of students frequently joked around in a way that Abdirahman said could be seen as aggressive from the viewpoint of the police officers.

Abdirahman said that these students were usually on the steps of the high school, play-fighting, every day for years. Abdirahman said that no one has ever gotten hurt before in the fighting.

One of the students involved pushed another student, prompting the Black police officer to come down the steps and pull him away by his backpack. According to Mason, the police officer pulled the student from the stairs into the vestibule, the mudroom outside of the atrium.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people will look at play-fighting and see it as fighting,” Mason said. “Not everyone is able to look at play-fighting and know that the kids are just playing around. Sometimes it looks like a fight.”

After the student was pulled into the vestibule, a video taken by Abdirahman shows the student standing in the middle of vestibule facing the front doors with the two police officers standing in front of him. The student uses a raised voice, asking why the officer is touching him and if he can leave.

In the video, more students come in from outside to watch the two police officers and the student. The two police officers then begin to tell people to leave the vestibule. The second officer, in the course of telling people to leave, uses his hands to take hold of a student’s sweatshirt and pulls him towards the door.

Later, the video shows that same police officer using his body to push one student away from the atrium and out the front doors. According to the video, the student is holding up her hands against his chest and trying to move past the officer to go into the atrium.

According to Mason, some students gathered around to watch the scene and were slow to leave after the two police officers  intervened. The first deans arrived as the police talked to the student in the vestibule, and the majority of the deans came after to calm the situation.

Dean Anthony Meyer was one of the first deans on the scene, preceded only by deans Lisa Redding and Brian Poon and School Within a School Coordinator Dan Bresman. Meyer was the first dean that appeared in the video provided by Abdirahman.

When I arrived to the vestibule, I saw a student of mine who was clearly escalated.”  Meyer said in an email. “I worked quickly to help him de-escalate with the support of other BHS staff, members of the Brookline Police Department, and, most of all, the student himself. The student did a very good job of explaining his frustration and letting me help him.”   

Abdirahman said that if the deans had not come when they did, the situation would have continued to escalate.

“I feel like the deans handled it well and they just took it easy,” Abdirahman. “If the deans weren’t there it would have escalated more. The deans took it in a calm way and because of the situation, the student went one way and the cops went another way.”

Associate Dean Melanee Alexander came down after the police officers had left and most of the students were outside. Alexander was not present at the time of the incident but heard about it from administrators and the police.

Alexander said that the relationship between police and citizens is always a difficult one to manage, and especially so for citizens of color, but that the primary goal of law enforcement is to preserve safety.

“No one, I think, would deny that the relationship between the police and the community is a difficult one to manage,” Alexander said.  “Honestly it doesn’t matter where you are, but I believe, in general, the police want the same thing that the citizenry wants, which is safety.”

Alexander said that the administration is checking in with students individually who were involved to hear their point of view and support them. The administration also called the involved students’ parents to make sure they were informed.

Alexander said that while the power dynamics are difficult when a police officer tells one to do something for safety, their instructions should be followed.

“My only message is that we all have to be real about the power dynamics in our society. There are times, for example, when our parents tell us to do ‘X’ and we do it because they are the ones in charge at the moment,” Alexander said. “So when the police ask us to do something, that’s to an average person reasonable, in order for us to accomplish what we want, which is safety, we need to do what they say.”