In 2019, Somerville Public Schools in Massachusetts called the police on a 6-year-old boy. Now he has a criminal record, and his mother is still fighting for justice.
That November, Flavia Peréa received a phone call from the dean of students at Albert F. Argenziano Elementary School, who said her son would be reported to the state for “sexual harassment.” Why? His friend and classmate told a teacher that he “touched my bum.” Peréa’s son is Black and Latino. The girl is white.
The school had also filed a 51A report against Peréa’s son, something usually reserved for adults who have abused or neglected children. Peréa didn’t learn about the police involvement until later.
After over a year of organizing to clear her son’s record with her organization Justice For Flavia, Peréa has finally secured a meeting with Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone this week.
Mayor and Police Department ignore mother’s demands
Since that phone call two years ago, Peréa has been fighting to expunge her son’s record.
“My kid has five records: two [with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families], one [with the] local police, one [with the] District Attorney, and a school conduct record,” she said in a conversation with Liberation News.
The documents described the so-called incident as “sexual harassment,” “sexual abuse” and “sexual assault.” Her son is referred to as a “perpetrator.”
“I found out about the police because I received a phone call from a detective,” Peréa explained. “Somerville Police drove the squad car to the school. The school said they were justified in using the mandated reporter law. They alleged child abuse was happening, which they have to report.”
Children often need to be reminded to keep their hands to themselves. Equating this normal childhood behavior with child abuse is outrageous. Rather than use the “incident” as a chance to have a conversation with the kids about respect and personal space, Somerville Public Schools and Police chose to treat this first grader like a criminal.
This March, Peréa addressed Mayor Curtatone in the Boston Globe. Her demands — a formal apology from the city and expungement of her son’s record with the Somerville Police Department — have been ignored by Curtatone until now.
Somerville stands with Flavia
Peréa’s family has received an outpouring of support from neighbors and teachers since her story broke in the Boston Globe. Other parents have shared their experiences of being victimized by the collaboration between Somerville Public Schools and SPD.
“They have irrevocably altered the developmental trajectory of these kids,” Peréa told Liberation. “The stories left me in tears.” Hundreds have signed her letters to the Mayor and Somerville School Committee.
Teachers have been stunned to learn about the Memorandum of Understanding between SPS and SPD, now public on Peréa’s website. Previously, it was known almost exclusively by Superintendent Mary Skipper and District Attorney Marian Ryan.
The agreement lays bare the backbone of Somerville’s school-to-prison pipeline, where mundane school infractions such as vandalism, sexting, and schoolyard fights are “Mandatory Reportable Incidents” that require the attention of the police department.
A legacy of violence
Despite Somerville’s reputation as one of the most progressive cities in Massachusetts, the image has become difficult to maintain in recent years. In October, SPD officer Michael McGrath was charged with assault for pepperspraying a man in handcuffs. McGrath was formerly president of the Somerville Police Employees Association and led an anti-Black Lives Matter protest in 2016. Another officer Alex Capobianco, cousin of the mayor, was a school resource officer who sold drugs on the side.
There is an ongoing movement to Defund SPD, supported by thousands of residents. In addition to the prior police scandals, the growing movement to Defund SPD has exposed Somerville’s progressive facade and calls into question Mayor Curtatone’s future political ambitions. His recent decision to meet with Peréa and supporters comes 9 days after Justice for Flavia held a demonstration where they hand-delivered their petition to City Hall.
As Peréa makes clear on her website, Somerville is no exception to the country’s racist prison industrial complex.
“What happened to my son is an act of violence on a boy of color in lockstep with entrenched systemic racism and a legacy of violence towards Black and Brown men and boys. It is the school to prison pipeline in action, and a painful illustration of structural injustice perpetuated by our civic institutions.
“My son now has a police record. I am not able to see that record because the police are treating my son like a rapist. My son is a victim.”
The Party for Socialism and Liberation-Boston stands in solidarity with Flavia Peréa’s demands for justice for her son, and encourage our readers to sign her letters to the Mayor and Somerville School Committee, and donate to her family’s fundraiser for legal fees and other expenses from their ongoing struggle. Read more ways to support here.