The School District of Philadelphia is investigating an incident that took place last week at Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia in which a school cop has been accused by the Philadelphia Student Union of assaulting a student.
A 13-second video from the fracas was shared on Facebook on Monday by the union, which represents students in Philadelphia’s public schools. Below is a version of the video zoomed in on the cop’s arms and the head of the student. The full, uncropped video can be seen on Vimeo.
According to union’s account of what happened, Benjamin Franklin High School senior Brian Burney wanted to use the bathroom but didn’t have a pass, so school cop Jeff Maciocha told him he couldn’t enter the bathroom. (Burney is heavily involved with the union and appeared in multiple news stories in 2014 for his union activities).
This is from the union’s account of the incident:
In a moment of frustration, an argument ensued and Brian threw an orange against the wall. The cop retaliated by punching him twice in the face, slamming him down and began choking him. Many students gathered around and yelled at the officer to get off of Brian.
Another student at the school began recording Brian, who was in a chokehold. While recording the video, the student was told to delete the footage or be at risk of arrest, the phone was taken from him by a teacher who deleted the footage herself, attempting to erase the documentation of the police brutality that had just occurred in front of a group of students. As another officer arrived to the scene students urged them to let Brian go, who they feared would have an asthma attack and need medical attention.
According to the union, Burney, who has not responded to interview requests, suffered a concussion.
School District of Philadelphia spokesperson Fernando Gallard tells Philadelphia magazine that a full investigation is underway, but he says that based on the video footage and preliminary inquiries, the cop didn’t do anything wrong.
As Gallard tells it, the school principal and the school cop told Burney repeatedly that he had to go back to his classroom and get a bathroom pass. All bathrooms at Ben Franklin are locked, says Gallard, and can only be opened by a cop, principal, or teacher after a student presents a bathroom pass.
“This student refused,” says Gallard of Burney. “He became very angry and began to call the police officer racial slurs. He was using vulgar language and profanity, and then he threw an orange at the head of the police officer. And then, he started to advance toward the police officer.”
At that point, the cop put what Gallard says is a “restraining hold” on Burney, something that Gallard tells us is perfectly acceptable given the situation.
“The video actually proves that ‘choked’ is an incorrect statement,” insists Gallard. “He is not being choked.”
Gallard adds that the principal and other eyewitnesses told the district that Burney became so angry that he began banging his forehead on the ground.
As for the union’s claim that a student was told to delete footage, Gallard confirms that about an hour after the incident, a school cop made a copy of a student’s video and then told the student to delete it.
As with most video clips that spark the kind of social media outrage that this one has spurred, what’s not caught on the video is what led up to it or what happened after the video stopped rolling. But in the aftermath of Eric Garner’s death, footage of a large white cop restraining a young, unarmed black student with his hands near the student’s neck instantly disturbs many viewers.
Fueling the outrage for many students are the conditions in the city’s public schools. In a Facebook post, the Philadelphia Student Union explicitly linked what it called “police violence” with “state violence.”
We define violence as “power that hurts people’s chances at survival.” The School District of Philadelphia, in denying basic resources to students in already under-resourced communities, systematically denies young people an equal and just chance at survival in the city of Philadelphia.
Pending the outcome of the investigation, Maciocha has been relocated to a non-school site.
Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.