Susan Miller Dorsey High School students thought they were attending a march for Tyre Nichols. They ended up marching over 6th Street Bridge with LAPD officers and later acted out various scenarios in a VR police simulator.
At a February 7 Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board meeting, Susan Miller Dorsey High School student Simya Smith made public comments. She spoke about a field trip that Dorsey students were initially told was to honor Tyre Nichols. Instead, Dorsey students showed up to what Smith has classified as a “pro-police” trip.
They were greeted by over 100 police officers, listened to a speech by LAPD Chief Michel Moore, and were later taken to police headquarters to act out various scenarios as police officers using a VR simulator. Smith called the trip “highly inappropriate and traumatizing” and asked whether Superintendent Carvahlo had authorized it.
Smith was referring to the third Annual Good Trouble Walk and Cultural Sensitivity Summit. The event was hosted by Building Blue Bridges founder Daphne Bradford. Building Blue Bridges is an organization that attempts to build positive relationships between students and police.
The summit began at the intersection of Whittier Boulevard and Boyle Avenue. Students, police, and community members marched across 6th Street Bridge and ended their procession at the intersection of 6th Street and Mateo Street. The LAPD press release for the event claimed Chief Michel Moore would encourage students to “[ask] tough questions about police reform and de-escalation education training.”
Knock LA spoke to one student who attended the march, Jailynn Butler-Thomas. Butler-Thomas is a junior at Susan Miller Dorsey High School and a member of Students Deserve, an organization that strives to reduce policing in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and promote Black leadership and achievement. Butler-Thomas categorized the field trip as “a publicity stunt” that was misrepresented to students from the beginning.
“Ms. Bradford was coming to our classes and she was just talking to us about how there’s this field trip coming up that we should all come on,” Butler-Thomas said. “She was telling us how it’s like a march for Tyre Nichols specifically. So, going into it, me and my peers were very excited because we wanted to do something. We wanted to be part of that.”
Bradford and other Dorsey staff members told students that attending the trip could reflect positively on them during the college admissions process.
“They were saying that us being on the news and doing this march for Tyre Nichols was something that could get us scholarships and get us attention from schools,” Butler-Thomas said.
Butler-Thomas said that the trip was “not mandatory,” but that students were encouraged to attend. “[Bradford] came to our class many times. I’d probably say four or maybe five times talking about the field trip, getting slips. For people who hadn’t got the slips, she came back telling them that they needed to go and was getting them slips,” she said. The morning of the trip, Butler-Thomas immediately noticed an unexpected police presence.
“Sometimes we do have cops outside of our campus,” she said, “but there were like two cop cars there that morning, so I knew something was going on. When we were getting ready to go, I noticed [a] cop was coming on the bus with us.”
The police officer claimed to be there to prepare the students for the trip and answer any questions they had. However, Butler-Thomas expressed skepticism about this claim.
“I noticed he was there to like change our narratives or calm us down before we got there,” she said, “and kind of like switch our mindsets around so we weren’t going to be as vocal as we probably would have carrying all the anger from the things that happened the past few months and the past few years.”
Butler-Thomas said the officer did not answer questions directly, but focused on “trying to break down how hard it is to be a cop.”
“One of the questions that I specifically asked was about how there’s something wrong with the system that’s hiring cops, because of the issues we’re having with the police force, not only the LAPD but policing almost everywhere,” she said. “He kind of went on with the ‘not all cops are bad cops’ and ‘cops have to make these hard decisions.’”
When the students arrived, there were multiple LAPD officers present, including LAPD Chief Michel Moore, Los Angeles School Police Chief (LASP) Steven Zipperman, and Los Angeles Airport Police Chief and former LA County sheriff candidate Cecil Rhambo. LASP did not respond to Knock LA’s request for comment.
LAPD’s Media Relations division told Knock LA they “did not receive any information” regarding the summit and to reach out to the event’s organizers. However, the event’s organizer, Daphne Bradford, declined to comment on the organizing of the event.
“Cameras were in our faces,” Butler-Thomas said. “Getting off the bus and seeing that showed me that, ‘I don’t know what this is, but it’s obviously a publicity stunt.’”
The police made conversation with the students, mostly asking about their classes, grades, and schoolwork. While the LAPD press release claimed the trip would be a “peaceful gathering honoring the request for unity from Tyre Nichols’s mother and family,” Butler-Thomas said there were no initial mentions of Nichols.
“No one’s talking about Tyre Nichols. No one’s talking about Keenan Anderson. No one’s talking about any of the people that LAPD has killed. They’re not mentioning that at all,” said Butler-Thomas. “The LAPD didn’t take any responsibility for Keenan Anderson or any of the people that they killed this year or any of the years prior to that.”
After the march, Bradford held a press conference with Chief Moore to discuss Building Blue Bridges and there was a brief moment of silence for Tyre Nichols.
Students were then taken to the police headquarters for a Q&A session. According to Butler-Thomas, questions were preselected by Bradford, which Butler-Thomas speculated was so “she didn’t get asked anything too controversial, because the cameras were on her.”
Police led students to a simulation room. Several students put on Virtual Reality (VR) headsets that allowed them to act out three different scenarios as police officers: responding to a school shooting, responding to a suspicious vehicle, and responding to a mental health call.
“It was very inconsiderate to put students in virtual reality about school shootings and violence and things we have to face all the time from cops and in certain situations where cops don’t help. The shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the cops didn’t help with that,” Butler-Thomas said.
She said the field trip as a whole “wasn’t a good … experience” and that, “if anything, it kind of made everything I believe cemented in my brain.”
Who Signed Off on the Trip?
Knock LA spoke to both Simya Smith, the student who drew attention to the event at the LAUSD board meeting, and Kyla Payne. Both are Dorsey seniors and members of Students Deserve. Both Payne and Smith said they do not know who planned the trip, but that Bradford was heavily involved. This is not the first field trip of its nature either. During her junior year in 2022, Smith said, there was a similar trip to the police academy that Bradford showed up on campus to promote.
Bradford is sometimes referred to as an educator at Dorsey High School and, according to the Los Angeles Times, Bradford taught a computer science class through Mothers of Many at Dorsey in 2015. However, at the time of publishing, Bradford is not listed on the school’s staff page, and a Dorsey teacher confirmed that she is not an employee at the school. Joseph Williams, director of Students Deserve, spoke to Knock LA about the field trip and said that, despite research on their part, “it’s unclear who [Bradford] is an employee of.”
Payne says that Bradford shows up at Dorsey twice every couple of weeks.
“I know sometimes she’ll come to classes and come to certain stuff and kind of brainwash and manipulate us to listen and hear different sides of a quote-unquote correct story,” Payne said.
Payne said Bradford occasionally assigns them “certain assignments to be like ‘police aren’t what’s wrong about the Black and brown community’” and that Bradford once asked students to write letters to politicians “basically telling them they’re wrong for police brutality and not actual officers.”
Both students said Bradford is affiliated with Irvin Davis, who teaches social studies and history, but Davis did not respond to Knock LA’s request for comment. Dr. Sean M. Gaston, Dorsey’s principal at the time of the trip, did not respond to multiple requests for comment or provide clarification of Bradford’s role at Dorsey.
When contacted by Knock LA, Bradford declined to comment on the story and would not explain her role at Dorsey. She also declined a request to put Knock LA in touch with the students she claimed enjoyed the march.
The Field Trip’s Timing
Smith and Payne both declined to go on the field trip, with Smith specifically citing issues with Building Blue Bridges as a factor in this decision.
“I know that Blue Bridges is a program targeted towards trying to make the police and communities of color reconcile their very strained relationship, and that’s just not the views that I personally have on police presence,” Smith said.
Smith was critical of the timing of the trip, stating, “I just think that that was highly inappropriate to do especially as we see more and more Black and brown people being victims of police brutality not only within LAPD but also the Los Angeles School Police.”
Payne echoed Smith’s sentiments, calling the trip “very much PR” and stating, “It kind of seems like this summit and this Building Blue Bridges thing is a way for them to get more money in their pockets and not actually listen to students. There’s been multiple LAPD murders before and after the summit. I’m pretty sure they didn’t address any of that.”
Williams expressed concerns that Dorsey High School students were pushed to attend because Dorsey was “one of only two or three majority Black high schools in LAUSD.”
“That they would specifically single out students from this school to be taken on this field trip was disgusting and students were hurt and betrayed,” Williams said.
Butler-Thomas also referenced the trip’s timing, stating, “This pro-police field trip was propaganda to kind of attack and manipulate young minds, especially young Black minds.” She called the trip “another form of the attack right now that’s going on around young Black education,” referring to Florida governor Ron DeSantis blocking courses on African American studies.
“It’s a shame we’re being denied to learn our history and on top of that we’re being manipulated by the police to believe that they have our best interests at heart when they are one of the main things that we have to run from,” Butler-Thomas said.
Pushback to Reform
Students Deserve has made major strides in both reducing on-campus police presence and providing a more supportive learning environment for Black students. Both Smith and Payne talked to Knock LA about the impact of their work.
“Our biggest accomplishment is defunding the school police by $25 million and reinvesting it into restorative justice,” Smith said. “We created this program called the Black Student Achievement Plan, which is basically a program that is catered towards helping Black students and non-Black students with school services and trying to help them perform better and with mental health as well.”
“We’ve made sure there’s more mental health services and more predominantly Black and brown schools,” Payne said. “We have PSWs [psychiatric social workers], we have more counselors, we have climate advocates and more economic studies, Mexican American studies, and Native American studies at our school now.”
“Literally, ever since BSAP got implemented, I think that the atmosphere at Dorsey has taken a major shift,” Smith said. “Honestly, there are not as many fights as there used to be. The atmosphere is a lot more calm, especially because students are seeing staff that look like them.”
However, both Williams and Smith note this progress comes with pushback.
“Dorsey was one of the most active schools in the movement to end random searches and end the criminalization of students,” Williams said. “Around that time, there was also an intentional effort to try to build a base of students who were indoctrinated to support police there.”
Smith said that during the leadup to the 2022 police academy field trip, Bradford made what she believes were veiled references to Students Deserve.
“[Bradford] was speaking about her efforts in trying to bridge the two communities together,” Smith said, “and she talked about how there were certain organizations that were trying to defund the school police and I was pretty sure she was talking about Students Deserve. She didn’t outright say Students Deserve, but it’s our biggest campaign right now.”
Since the field trip, Butler-Thomas said the atmosphere at Dorsey has been “conflicting.”
“A lot of our staff are very pro-police,” she said. “It’s made the environment for students even more conforming to this school-to-prison pipeline. It’s making kids feel like we don’t have anyone to go to.”
Butler-Thomas maintains the field trip “wasn’t properly advertised” and is confident Students Deserve will continue to raise awareness about the field trip throughout both LAUSD and the general Los Angeles community.
“I know for a fact Students Deserve won’t let this be swept under the rug,” Butler-Thomas said.
Speaking of the field trip, Williams said that “overall, many students felt extremely lied to, betrayed, misled, abused, and used by their school and by the police for being taken on this field trip that was supposed to be in honor of Black History Month and supposed to be in honor of Tyre Nichols.”
Payne said Students Deserve plans to spread information through all school chapters about the field trip, help students understand why the trip was inappropriate, and assist students in connecting with future leadership events to help gain much-needed resources.