Arrests follow NAACP protest of Wake schools

Rev. William Barber is taken into custody
July 19, 2010 9:00:00 PM PDT
Nineteen protesters - including the leader of the North Carolina NAACP - were arrested Tuesday at Wake County school headquarters.

The demonstrators are opposed to the Wake County school board's recent decision to end the district's socio-economic diversity policy in favor of more neighborhood oriented school zones. The protestors say the change will lead to a resegregation of the district.

The first arrests Late Tuesday afternoon included NAACP chief Reverend William Barber and Reverend Nancy Petty - senior pastor at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

They were taken into custody as soon as they set foot on school property because they'd already been ordered to stay away after the pair and two others were arrested at another school board meeting last month for disrupting the meeting.

Barber and Petty were charged with second-degree trespassing. A third person, Gregory Moss, was charged with resisting, delaying or obstructing a law enforcement officer. All three were taken to the Wake County Jail and later released.

"As long as you fight with dignity and love and justice and stand for what's right, it is not detrimental to the cause," Barber said following his release.

About an hour later, protesters inside a Wake County School Board meeting began chanting during the public comment session. The meeting came to a halt as dozens of people stood arm-in-arm as police officers tried to break up the group.

Board members exited the room as authorities arrested crowd members. School board member Keith Sutton says he went into the crowd to calm down the situation when he saw a child and a woman with a walker were in the group and people started pushing and shoving.

He says a police officer mistook him for a protestor and put his arms behind his back.

"I was trying to calm down the crowd as things got a little more excited," Sutton said. "I was trying to talk with the officers to encourage them, to perhaps, not use as much force as it appeared that some of them were."

Sutton says one of the officers said he was sorry, but he wants a meeting with Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan and an apology from the officer who put his arms behind his back.

Authorities arrested 16 people during the outburst. The group was placed in an inmate transfer bus and taken to the magistrates office. All 16 people were North Carolina residents, but only three of them lived in Wake County.

Downtown Rally

The arrests came after the NAACP and supporters of Wake County schools' old socio-economic diversity policy gathered at the Raleigh Convention Center for a march through downtown Tuesday morning.

The midday heat caused five protestors to collapse in the street before the rally ended. Paramedics transported two to WakeMed for evaluation.

Raleigh police estimate nearly 1,000 protestors participated in the march and rally, and there were no arrests.

The crowd carried signs that criticized the Wake County School Board. One sign read: "History is not a mystery. Separate is always unequal." Another read: "Segregate equals hate."

"I am really proud, and pleased that all the downtown can see there are a lot of people who feel strongly about this issue," protestor Julie Snee said.

Among the speakers at the rally were students from Wake County Schools who say their success is due to their parents and teachers.

"And the diversity policy, it opened doors of opportunity for me!" one student exclaimed. "Without the policy there will be few honors classes at my school."

Everyone who showed up for the demonstration said their hope is school leaders will reconsider their decision to eliminate the diversity policy.

"I have two children in the Wake County school system, and would much prefer for us to work with the progress that we have been making rather than upend everything," Snee said. "That's what they did."

Wake School board chair Ron Margiotta said he believes the protest is premature. "They're protesting assignment zones that haven't even been developed yet. Give me a break."

Board Supporters

Despite all the protests, supporters of the board's new policies were also in the crowd Tuesday.

Sometimes speaking over boos and hissing, supporters thanked board members during the meeting for holding fast to the promises they made during their campaigns.

"Our schools were being operated by social engineers, not educators, and you campaigned to fix that and bring education back to the priority it should have," one supporter said.

However, they were clearly overshadowed by the much more vocal opponents of so-called community schools, but their message was still heard by those on the board.

"I think we were elected to do what the community wanted," School board member John Tedesco said.

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