Rina Benden For The Enquirer
ALBION — The arrests of four black students at Albion High School last week are prompting calls for an examination of the district's disciplinary policies, and raising concerns that the practices are not equally applied to all pupils.
According to Eric Miller, Albion Department of Public Safety chief, four male students were involved in a fight on March 26, and were handcuffed and taken into custody.
Two days later, two female students, one Caucasian and the other bi-racial, were involved in a fight, but were not handcuffed or arrested. Miller confirmed that the girls' parents were allowed to take them home.
"Those individuals were not arrested due to the fact that at Public Safety, we have only so many holding cells, and we're not allowed to house juveniles in sight or sound presence of (jailed) adults," Miller said.
"We didn't have adequate facility at that moment, so the decision was made that they were to be released. They were still charged with disorderly conduct."
The disparity in the handling of the cases drew complaints from parents and community members who attended Monday's Albion City Council meeting.
Wes Dick, first vice president of the Albion chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people, attended the meeting.
"The dilemma for many who had had their children arrested, was that it appeared to be racial favoritism," he said Tuesday. "We'd like to see a proactive program that emphasizes conflict resolution — intervention — so that we're working toward getting students to have better behavior, but not putting them in the criminal justice system that can also be seen as a track toward failure."
Miller denied that the arrests were racially motivated.
"We are not racist; we do not participate in racist activities," Miller said. "The policy is that when kids are fighting in the school, the school district calls the Department of Public Safety, we make arrests of all parties, charge them with disorderly conduct, and bring them to the station. We remove them as we remove anyone else under arrest: in handcuffs, in the patrol car — for their safety and for our safety. They are fingerprinted, photographed, their parents are called. Juveniles are released to their parents; those 17 or older are treated as adults."
Talene Williams' 17-year-old son was one of the black students arrested on March 26.
"There were a group of children who had been harassing and threatening him daily," Williams said. "The day the fight took place, my son was headed to the office to talk to the assistant principal, Derrick Crum. He was at the office when two boys attacked him, and he accidentally hit a girl who was with the group. I was told that Mr. Crum came out to intervene, and everybody's swinging, and I guess my son hit Mr. Crum."
According to Williams, three boys and one girl were arrested, rather than four males as Miller said.
Crum could not be reached for comment.
Lily Bennett of Albion, who said her 14-year-old daughter was arrested after a verbal dispute with Crum, was critical of the policy.
"I think it's absolutely ridiculous," she said. "These are kids and they're taking them out of school in handcuffs."
NAACP President Robert Dunklin said there was a meeting on Feb. 12 at Lewis Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Albion of community members, Miller, students, parents, school administrators and pastors to discuss the district's arrest policy, and that there have been subsequent meetings on the topic.
"There's some very angry parents in this town at this point," Dunklin said. "I think we need a cooling-off period before we can bring everybody together and get settled down.
School board president David Moore said he was aware of the concerns regarding the policy.
"I know that (interim superintendent) Mr. (Larry) Ley was in direct conversation with the Department of Public Safety about these last two incidents before spring break intervened," he said. "I can understand why there's a concern about racism. To the extent we have to deal with incidents of this kind, we intend to and believe we do deal with them as evenhandedly as possible, but we don't decide when to make arrests and when not. Our power ends when the telephone call is made to the public safety department."
Ley is on vacation and unavailable for comment.
The Rev. Donald Phillips of Lewis Chapel has called for a community prayer at 12 p.m. today in front of city hall as "a part of our political and spiritual response to recent events in our school system and community," he said in a printed statement.
Dunklin said the community must consider the best interests of the city's youth.
"I think we can help by talking to our children. And listening to them."
Rina Benden can be reached at email@example.com.