DENVER (CBS4) – Hundreds of East High School students in Denver walked out of class Wednesday morning in protest of the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.

An image of students gathering at the Capitol Wednesday morning (credit: Elizabeth Hernandez/Twitter)

An image of students gathering at the Capitol Wednesday morning (credit: Elizabeth Hernandez/Twitter)

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The students left class at approximately 10 a.m. and walked through downtown Denver. They gathered at the Capitol to protest a grand jury’s decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson.

“I’m protesting because that cop shot him and he got off free,” said protester Jonathan Holguin. “The police are supposed to protect us and they’re out there killing people.”

It was estimated that nearly 1,000 people had gathered near the Capitol at 11:30 a.m.

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“I am here today to protest against the law, the police and any law out there because of the crime that they’ve been doing. They’re here to serve and protect us but the law is here to serve for us and they’re here to protect but how are we going to say, how are they going to shoot an innocent man over nothing,” said protester Daniel Chavez. “I don’t know for sure that he was innocent but that’s why I’m out here protesting, ‘Don’t Shoot!’ you know what I mean?”

Student organizers of the walkout told CBS4 they started distributing fliers on Tuesday but didn’t think the walkout would be as large as it became.

The students shouted “Hands up, don’t shoot!”

The students then walked from the Capitol and over Denver’s City and County Building and then to the 16th Street Mall.

Student blocking the intersection of Lincoln Street and Colfax Avenue (credit: CBS)

Student blocking the intersection of Lincoln Street and Colfax Avenue (credit: CBS)

“I can’t go to Ferguson to change the laws, I can’t go back and make him not get shot,” student protester Donna Lea Bridges said. “But this is something I can do and I felt like I needed to.”

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One student told CBS4 that their teachers support them, although not publicly, and plan to give them an excused absence.

The school principal did not comment on the walkout, only saying that they heard about the plan.

An organizer told CBS4 they planned to walkout around 10 a.m. and go back to school after lunch, but many students said they planned to take the rest of the day off.

“My friends and I were talking about the situation in Ferguson and we were just saying, ‘We really need to do something about this’ and so all together, collectively, we were like, ‘What if we do a walkout?’ So starting Tuesday we started putting out flyers and it all happened really fast. We just started handing them out to kids and before we knew it word spread super quick and we just told people to wear black, it will be a quick rally, and once we’re done we’ll go back to class,” said protester organizer Maya Thomas.

The protest disrupted traffic all around Capitol Hill during the march.

East High School’s Principal sent this letter to parents:

Dear East High School Families and Guardians,

Today, about 500 East students walked out of school today as a statement of solidarity regarding the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. These students gathered outside the school before leaving the campus and proceeded to walk west past the Capitol and down the 16th Street Mall. To ensure the students’ safety, myself, DPS Safety and Security officers and Denver police officers joined the group and helped to manage traffic safety. The march was peaceful, and the students returned safely to school about two hours later. Classes continued as usual for all other students.

To be clear, not all East students participated in this walkout. I encourage you to take this opportunity to have an open conversation with your student to learn if they participated in today’s walk-out and act of solidarity in response this important community conversation. It’s important for our students to join these critical community conversations, and they have demonstrated their engagement in these important issues by interjecting their voices in thoughtful and peaceful means. We hope to see this thoughtful dialogue carry into the classroom and continue with important discussions that affect our community.

I would also like to make you aware that a few Denver police officers were injured near the area where students were protesting. A vehicle struck the officers. Some students may have witnessed this incident. Please let us know if your student needs support. Our counselors are available to talk with students if they need support after witnesses this frightening incident. At this time, we don’t have updates on the conditions of the officers, but our thoughts are with them, and we wish them a speedy recovery.

Thank you,
Andy Mendelsberg
East High School Principal

Denver Public Schools released this statement regarding the protests:

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About 500 Denver students engaged in a peaceful walk-out to the Capitol as a statement of solidarity in response to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. DPS Safety and Security and Denver police were present to help ensure students were safe as they crossed streets and walked to and from the Capitol. As they were returning to school, several Denver police officers were struck by a vehicle and injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with the officers, and we wish them a full recovery.