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Helix Students Raise Their Voices Amid Upswell Of Youth Activism

Brianna Bell, 17, laughs with friends and community organizers outside of a S...

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: Brianna Bell, 17, laughs with friends and community organizers outside of a San Diego Unified School Board meeting, Feb. 27, 2018.

San Diego Unified isn’t their home district, but Helix Charter High School students nonetheless drew the attention of media and bystanders outside of the district’s board meeting Tuesday, knowing that layoff notices and concerns about school safety would draw a crowd.

Like the Florida students denouncing gun violence in schools, about a dozen Helix students took to the microphone to say it’s time for youth to be heard.

They want de-escalation training for teachers and police after a La Mesa officer slammed 17-year-old Brianna Bell to the ground last month.

She spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday.

“When this incident took place, I felt like my voice wasn’t important,” Bell said. “But people — what they’re saying — people matter. If everyone was to step up and say what’s happening is wrong, then things would change. So I will be using my platform to say that our voices matter.”

The officer that body-slammed Bell is on administrative leave pending an investigation. Police say Bell resisted an order to leave the Grossmont Union High School District charter school after a teacher found pepper spray in her bag.

RELATED: San Diego Students Likely Won’t Face Suspensions For School Walkout Against Gun Violence

At the press conference, Bell also denounced President Donald Trump’s idea to arm more school staff following the school shooting in Florida. She said what happened to her is proof there’s more basic work to do on school campuses — improve communication.

Aeiramique Blake, a community organizer working with the students, said shortly after the incident that Bell was trying to explain to school staff that their response was unfair when they called the police; she had pepper spray because she takes public transit home from school.

“We live in a world that jumps to conclusions and to the extreme case,” Bell said. “I propose a change starting within. Instead of putting money toward more firearms, how about we make the necessary changes so that guns on campuses are not needed at all?”

Video by Megan Burks

Mahamed Abdulahi, 15, said he and his classmates want to advocate around more than what happened at their school. They’re uniting under the moniker Generation Justice to support other causes in the community.

RELATED: San Diego Gun Control Group Holds Launch Event

Though the students have been active in town hall meetings and rallies since the incident, Abdulahi said watching the nation pay attention to youth activists following the Florida shooting has given them renewed momentum.

"We’re so, so excited that in this country teenagers are being given a platform to discuss what matters,” Abdulahi said. "For so long, you couldn’t say anything because it’s like, ‘I’ll let the adults handle it.’ But it’s obvious the adults aren’t handling it. We aren’t always in a position to vote, but we can use our minds, we can use our energy, we can use our bodies to make change.”

San Diego Unified isn’t their home district, but Helix Charter High School students nonetheless drew the attention of media and bystanders outside of the district’s board meeting Tuesday, knowing that layoff notices and concerns about school safety would draw a crowd.

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