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Protesters demonstrate against electroshock therapy in Canton

CANTON — More than 100 demonstrators gathered Monday afternoon in front of a controversial school to demand that it stop administering skin shock treatments to special needs students.

The protesters converged on the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center shortly after 3:30 p.m., organizers said.

“They’re torturing disabled individuals,” said demonstrator Marilee Adamski-Smith, 40, of Milwaukee, a member of the national advocacy group, ADAPT, which organized the protest.

As she spoke, several demonstrators using wheelchair were speaking with Canton police on the front steps of the center.

Canton police Chief Ken Berkowitz said on the grounds of the property Monday night that no demonstrators were arrested, but several people will be cited for trespassing and other offenses.


He said it was not clear how many people will be cited.

At one point, Berkowitz said, about 20 demonstrators tried to enter the building, including five or six who “aggressively” tried to gain entry.

Police held them back and no one was hurt, according to Berkowitz.

“Overall it was peaceful,” he said of the protest. “But there was some pushing and shoving. We were trying to move people away from the door. The Rotenberg Center was obviously worried that there wouldn’t be emergency access for their students and residents.”

He said police have worked well in the past with other protest groups who demonstrated against the center, but the organizers Monday did not cooperate with law enforcement.

The Rotenberg Center said in a statement that the school was “dismayed by the tactics taken by these protestors. They aggressively tried to enter our school buildings and for several hours made it impossible to transport the students we serve home so they could relax after their classes and enjoy their dinner together in the homes they live in, in area neighborhoods. Parents of students tried to talk with the protestors about allowing the children and adults to go home, but to no avail.”


The school thanked police for their assistance and said the center “is a community based special education school with off-site residential homes where small groups of students and clients live together; we educate and treat people living with disabilities as an alternative to nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals.”

The Rotenberg Center has long faced criticism for administering skin shock therapy to some adolescent patients with behavioral and mental health issues.

The center, along with family members of some former patients, has defended its practices as necessary for helping clients who are in danger of harming themselves or others.

The demonstration appeared to be wrapping up early Monday evening and signage was visible in the parking lot, including one placard that read, “There Is Hope, Justice, Freedom.”

Demonstrator Beatrice Bell, of Dorchester, who works for Spare Change, a newsletter for the homeless, said she came to the protest as a show of solidarity.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.