Content warning: This article includes intense descriptions of violence.
Rhode Island residents and students gathered outside Providence City Hall to protest policing in public schools Monday afternoon. The protest was organized in support of Mount Pleasant High School student Jay-Juan Guillen-Watson, who was assaulted and arrested by a school resource officer earlier this month, according to the Providence Journal.
SROs are members of the Providence Police Department placed within city schools. Since 2018, the “Counselors Not Cops” campaign launched by the Providence Student Union has called for the removal of SROs from schools, The Herald previously reported.
In a Feb. 1 video uploaded to Facebook, Evelyn Guillen Rincón, Guillen-Watson’s mother, recounted her son’s arrest. “At about 3 p.m., I got a video call to see a police officer beating up (and) choking my son,” Guillen Rincón said, adding that Guillen-Watson was later transported to the Providence Police Station.
In a live follow-up video published Feb. 2, Guillen Rincón called on the audience to take action to help youths who may face situations similar to that of Guillen-Watson. “It’s not just about my son — it’s about our sons, our future,” she said.
She added that her son was later placed under home custody and, at the time of the protest, had yet to be released. Among his charges are disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana, according to the Providence Journal.
Outside City Hall, protestors demanded that city officials drop Guillen-Watson’s charges and remove SROs from schools. The event was organized by the Providence Youth Student Movement and the Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education. Students from both organizations participated in the protest.
ARISE Youth Leader Gabrielle Oulette, a student at Blackstone Academy Charter School, said that many secondary schools, like her own, operate safely without needing SROs.
“I don’t go to a school with school resource officers, so I know that having a safe community is possible,” Oulette said, calling on City Hall officials to “understand that these are our lives … (and that) these decisions are impacting us on huge levels.”
Former Providence high school student and ARISE Program Organizer Symone Burrell said that ARISE aims to “get SROs out of schools and counselors in schools, and … allocate the funding that goes to SROs to counselors and mental health awareness.”
Students for Educational Equity, a group of University students advocating for educational policy changes locally and statewide, organized Brown students at the event to oppose SROs and support Guillen-Watson, according to Zoe Fuad ’23.5, co-president of SEE.
“SROs were first brought into schools as a proposed solution against school shootings,” Fuad explained. “We’re seeing no cause and effect between SROs and their proposed reason for being in schools.”
“Absolutely no evidence shows SROs keep students safe,” Fuad said. “They don’t stop school shootings. They don’t make students feel safer.”
PRySM Youth Engagement Director Suonriaksmay Keo, a Providence public school alum, said that the culture of policing in schools leads to lifelong consequences for students.
“We’re demanding (they) put restorative practices into schools rather than punitive practices,” Keo said. “We know that there’s a culture and (there are) practices that push students out … into the school-to-prison pipeline, where they then enter the criminal system.”
Multiple protestors, including Keo, believe that funding for SROs should be redirected to student wellness resources and staffing.
“There’s definitely an alternative,” Keo added. “If we can put the funds that are being paid for the police to be in schools toward more mental health counselors, more psychiatrists, more therapists and more nurses in schools, it would be one of the many solutions to having a healthy school system and setting our youth up for success.”
Neil Mehta is a designer and University News editor at The Herald overseeing the institutional equity and student affinity groups beats. He is a sophomore from New York studying public health.