Although there are many historical precedents for African American urban protest, the example the young women of Fresh Start referenced in explaining their brief protest was the 1999 school walkout by 2,000 Detroit area high school students in reaction to the public’s ineffective response to a series of rapes of high school girls. At the time of the school walkout in November of 1999, eight young black women had already been raped on their walks to and from school, but the action taken by police and school officials was slow and seemingly unconcerned. After a 17-year-old girl fended off her attacker by blowing a whistle she wore around her neck, the mayor finally called for the community to act by ‘‘patrolling the city streets when students travel to and from school,’’ while also suggesting that the best solution involved older siblings offering protection to their younger sisters.
In this first official, recorded statement, there was no mention of what the police would be called to do. The school board’s method for addressing the heinous assaults was to focus their attention on the young protestors who were promptly threatened with charges of truancy if there were any further walkouts. The lack of public alarm in relation to these sexual assaults and concurrent failure to protect on the part of the authorities was a bold commentary on the value of young black women.