By Barney Blakeney
The six North Charleston High School students arrested Feb. 16 for creating a disturbance on a school bus forces our community to respond to some harsh realities. We asked several individuals what that response might be.
Local Black Lives Matter Charleston members reacted immediately with criticism of North Charleston police who responded to the call from the bus driver about the disturbance. In a statement issued Feb. 28 BLM Charleston leader Muhiyyidin D’Baha said, “The video the public has seen is from a student on the bus; it shows only 5 minutes of what happened. Call North Charleston City Council and demand the COMPLETE bus video be made public. We pay the mayor’s and council members’ salaries. We should be able to view a video they’ve already seen. While some news stories have painted pieces of the incident as fact, the truth is we don’t know if the bus driver and police account of what happened is true. For example, one of the children’s mom says her son did nothing wrong. She says he was wrongfully accused then roughed up and arrested. Seeing the bus camera video is one small part of a more fair process here.”
He added, “This is not just about one event on a bus. Our concern is about a system at work in CCSD schools that does not treat all children with dignity and compassion. When Black and Brown students break school rules or make mistakes, as all humans do, they are singled out, disrespected, dehumanized, and criminalized in ways their white peers are not. The court system is used against Black and Brown CCSD children far more than it is used against other groups.”
North Charleston Branch NAACP President Ed Bryant said, “We’re aware of what’s been alleged. What we’ve seen is there was antagonism on both sides – by the students and the police. We know that the school has guidelines for inappropriate behavior, but when the police are called in, that introduces another set of factors. I think the driver did the right thing by calling the police. But now that those students are facing the judicial process, they should be afforded all their civil rights. Our responsibility as a community is to teach students appropriate behavior. When they exceed that teaching, they have to submit to being addressed by the police and the judicial system,” Bryant said.
Charleston County School District issued a statement Tuesday. “Charleston County School District (CCSD) is following board-approved disciplinary protocol for the North Charleston High School students arrested for their involvement in an altercation aboard a bus on February 16, 2017,” it said. “The majority (5) of the students have a hearing tomorrow (Feb. 8) in front of the District 4 Constituent Board. Two students were suspended for five days, and suspended from the bus for the remainder of the school year. They were allowed to return to school on February 27, 2017. The four remaining students were suspended for 10 days. They were eligible to return to school on March 6, 2017; they will be referred for expulsion due to the simple assault charges.”
Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, vice president of Religious Affairs and External Relations for the National Action Network Monday said there has been another response to the incident however. All black children will be painted with the same brush of criminality as the students arrested, he said.
“Whatever those kids did on that bus – and I don’t know what they did because I haven’t seen the video – they will pay for. But another consequence is that the action of those kids who were arrested has been transferred to all black kids,” River said. “We’re talking to each other about how we should respond, but has anybody asked those other children on the bus how they are responding? If this provides anything at all, it may be an opportunity for quality dialogue with young people. When have we asked our young people how they feel?”