Wednesday, May 04, 2005

WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO OPPOSE UNJUST LAWS

As a member of Concerned Citizens of Durham I am taking this opportunity to speak to the citizens of Durham through this blog. I want first to thank you all for your wonderful support. My experience at the jail was not as bad as it could have been. I was only there for as long as it took to process me and bail me out; about two hours. As for Ms. Walthour and Rev. Gatewood, they came through the process right after I did. As you may know, Carol Walthour, was rushed to the hospital after being released. She is 65 years old and has a heart condition. After feeling flushed and faint the paramedics were called and she was admitted to, I believe, Duke Hospital, where she was attended to by friends and family.

I can't speak directly to what occured outside the building after my arrest. So, I will limit my comments to what happened with me. In the near future persons more directly involved with actions outside the Fuller building will address you in this forum.

The evening of Thursday, April 26th was the first time the the new rules governing "Open Public Comment" were to be in effect. The fact is that there is no longer any "Open Public Comment" in front of the Durham School Board. Through a fraudulent and deceptive process the majority members of the Durham School Board have instituted a policy whereby citizens may no longer directly address their elected officials on any given topic. The new process requires that an item be placed on the agenda no later than ten days in advance of the next School Board meeting. However, in order to be placed on the agenda the item must go before a "gatekeeper" board that consists of Chair Gail Heath, Vice-Chair Regina George-Bowden, and Superintendent Ann Denlinger. In keeping with the new rules Minnie Brown had attempted to place an item on the agenda. Minnie submitted the request more than ten days in advance but due to a two to one vote of the "gatekeeper" board her request was denied. The item she was trying to get on the agenda was this question:

"Why has the ban against Minnie Brown and Jackie Wagstaff barring them from stepping on Shepard Middle School property without express permission from the principal, why has that ban not been lifted given that fact that Minnie was exonerated of the charge of second degree trespassing which was the basis for the ban in the first place?"

That was what I was attempting to ask the Durham School Board when I was arrested. In accordance with non-violent principals I did not in any way resist arrest but neither did I comply with what I consider to be an undemocratic, unconstitutional, and illegal abuse of the power of the offices our School Board members hold.

I would like to stop here for just a moment and explain something. I know that those of you reading this already know this but it bears repeating. The only reason I/we have reached this sort of an impasse is because the Durham School Board refuses to enforce it's own policies and procedures as they relate to the proper treatment of students in Durham Public Schools. The old cliche, the phrase everyone likes to use is really true in this case: IT'S ALL ABOUT THE CHILDREN. This little skirmish here is really a sideshow to the main event which is that our children are being abused by this system. Rather than address the allegations coming from Shepard Middle School parents (and many others from thoughout the school system) this School Board prefers to hide it's head in the sand and ignore what is going on. That, in fact, may be took kind an assessment of the situation. This board is willfully and actively opposing, obfuscating, and stonewalling in any way they can the uncovering of what appear to be some very serious abuses going on in the Durham Public Schools.

Stopping the abuse of our children is our main objective. One skirmish in the struggle to stop the abuse is to focus a spotlight on the mechanisms of oppression that are weilded by the majority members of the Durham School Board. Having fraudulently promulgated rules that outlaw "Open Public Comment" this board has succeeded, in part, in moving the public's attention onto the supposed misbehavior of their critics. However, the reports I am getting from friends a family say that the tide of public opinion is beginning to turn. The heightened media coverage, the pictures and accounts of the violence used to arrest angry, but peaceful, demonstrators has begun to penetrate the public's conciousness. The public is beginning to wonder what it is that the School Board has to hide. Why don't they just take care of the problem and move on?

Anyway, back to the narrative. Gaith Heath, Chair of the School Board began pounding her gavel and insisting the I was off topic and that I should be seated. I refused to sit down. I repeated my question. I told her that the rules they had made up were illegal and that I was not going to follow them. When she motioned for the police/deputies I sat down on the floor (so, in a manner of speaking I was following her request). The first to reach was a black police woman that I know by sight. I am told her last name is Campbell. She squatted beside me and told me to get up. I told her, in a very calm voice, that I would be glad to go with her and the other officers but that they should put the cuffs on me first, then I would stand up. Her response was that she would "spray" me before she did that. I showed alarm on my face and stated in a slightly louder but still calm voice, that "she says she's going to spray me. I am not resisting and she says she's going to spray me." I believe II repeated this several times. Officers Campbell rolled her eyes and proceeded to place the cuffs on me, behind my back. Two deputies then took me by the arms and, with my help, got me to my feet. We then walked out through the room, in front of the cameras. I chanted "Lift The Ban, Fire Ann" as we walked. When we got out in the hall I repeated several times to the deputies that had me by the arms that I was calm and that I wasn't resisting. I said this loud enough for people in the hallway to hear me. We stopped at the end of the hall for a couple of minutes then proceeded down the steps, out the front of the building and they put me in a waiting Sheriff's vehicle. I could hear the protests, I saw people coming down the steps and go around to the side of the building but when they were around the building I couldn't see them anymore. I could hear a little but not clearly. After a few minute, maybe 10 minutes?, the deputies took me out of the car and moved the cuffs and put them back on with my hands front of me for which I was grateful and told them so.

At the jail they took my information and as I was waiting for the Deputy to talk to the Magistrate, Rev. Gatewood came in. A few minutes after that Mrs. Walthour came in. Ms. Walthour was in tears. I was called to talk to the Magistrate. She gave me the paperwork and was taken to the room next door. Just as they were taking my belt and shoe laces Jackie Wagstaff showed up at the window with the bail bondsman. We did the paperwork and I was released.

A group of our supporters greeted me (and Carol and Reb. Gatewood) in the lobby of the jail. While sitting there Mrs. Walthour felt ill and the paramedics were called.

That's about it for now. I will write more later but for those of you who are interested that is my blow-by-blow account of what went on.

Steven Matherly