On Feb. 13, 25 activists marched through the streets of Ybor City, Fla., to demand justice for Brittany Overstreet, a Black teenager who was attacked by her School Resource Officer at Chamberlain High School in Hillsborough County.
Each protester carried an LED-illuminated panels with a letter of Brittany Overstreet’s name, chanting “What side are you on, my people? What side are you on? We’re on the freedom side!” and “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
The incident happened in the Chamberlain High lunch room in September 2014. Overstreet was sitting at a table when an assistant principal approached her, grabbed her purse, and insisted she come with her. With the intervention of another assistant principal, the situation escalated.
A School Resource Officer, Manuel Santana, grabbed Overstreet’s ankles and snatched her legs out from under her. In the attack, Overstreet was slammed twice by the officer, first against a table and then onto the ground. One student reports that Overstreet was slammed even after being handcuffed. Hillsborough County School Spokesperson Steve Hegarty claims that this brutal, unprovoked attack on a student “is being blown out of proportion.”
An anonymous report allegedly claimed that Overstreet was carrying mace in her purse. Nothing of the sort was found on her possession. Overstreet received a 10-day suspension for the disruption created by the APs and SRO in the lunch room. Now she is being charged as a juvenile with “resisting arrest without violence.”
“Somebody should have been suspended without pay until further investigation,” said Debra Hosey, Overstreet’s mother. “I want him arrested and her fired. I think the whole situation was way outside the guidelines. I don’t think they followed protocol. It was wrong, so I think some people need to lose jobs and not work around kids. Or if they do, they need to have better training and anger management. Any situation when you’re dealing with kids, I don’t think it should ever be taken that far.”
Hosey and her sister rushed to the school when they heard Overstreet had been attacked. When they arrived, an Assistant Principal obstructed their way to her and insisted Hosey and her sister would only make things worse.
All Hosey could think about was her daughter, however, and she soon found her way to Brittany.
“When we got back there, we walked in, my daughter’s arms were behind her back in handcuffs and her head was lying in her lap. And we called her. We called her three times and she didn’t answer, so my sister pulled her head up. Blood was coming out of her mouth and her chin. And as I walked around there was a puddle of blood between her legs on the floor. I screamed. I was like, ‘What did you do to my child?”
When they got to the hospital, they learned that Brittany’s jaw was fractured in two places. One of her teeth was loose and another was chipped. She needed stitches, had bruises on her shoulders and her knee was swollen. She had a concussion.
The emotional effects on Brittany were just as bad. She had to change schools and start over again in a whole new atmosphere. She also lost friends when she became depressed and isolated, seeing a counselor for suicidal thoughts. Her mother also had to be hospitalized for two weeks due to the stress.
“It’s hard going in there and seeing your child like that. It’s hard as a parent to walk in there and see your child and know a grown man put his hands on her. And really, if you do something, you know you’re going to jail. People ask, how could you walk in there and see your child like that and not go crazy? I was upset, but at the same time I knew I had to think,” said Hosey.
On Monday, February 23, Bay Area Activists Coalition will be holding a rally at 7:45am at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square, 600 East Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, FL 33602, as Brittany and her family fight to get the charges dropped. The rally, “Kids Not Criminals: Justice for Brittany Overstreet” will be wearing all black and asking the question: Are children really safe in Hillsborough County Schools?