LUMBERTON — A group of about eight demonstrators carrying signs and chanting “No we won’t go” were physically confronted Tuesday morning by members of the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office as they attempted to cross U.S. 301 near the Magnolia Elementary School.
One demonstrator was arrested and charged with resisting a public officer, while another says she suffered an injury during the brief confrontation.
The demonstrators — grandmothers, mothers, and at least one young child from the Saddletree-Magnolia community — were protesting what they contend are efforts by Magnolia School principal Hawhana Locklear to prevent community members from being involved in their local school.
“As long as I can remember, and that’s more than 50 years, members of the Saddletree-Magnolia community have always been involved in the school,” said Sheila Beck-Jones, who organized the protest. ” … We are tired of fighting to be involved in our school. We are tired of community employees working at the school being targeted, harassed and treated unfairly. We are tired of our community elders that have been actively involved in our school for more years than we have been alive being disrespected and bullied by the schools leadership and staff.”
Jones said that attempts to resolve community concerns about Locklear, who has only been Magnolia’s principal for one year, have been largely ignored by school administrators and members of the Board of Education.
“This is the last resort to bring awareness to what is not going on. … We are here for the community… . The community should be allowed to make a positive impact on the schools,” Jones said shortly before the march in front of the school began at 10 a.m.
The altercation between the demonstrators, deputies and school resource officers happened as the demonstrators — with raised signs and chanting — slowly crossed U.S. 301 toward school property. The protesters disregarded orders from officers to turn back before the nine officers aggressively confronted them in the middle of the highway.
Jones said she suffered a wrist injury and intends to file charges against two officers who grabbed and twisted her arm and pushed her to the ground.
“I’m still in shock,” Jones told The Robesonian late Tuesday afternoon. “I thought I was in a movie.”
Tewana Jacobs, of Nestle Lane in Lumberton, was arrested and charged with the misdemeanor offense of “resisting a public officer.” She was released on a $500 secured bond.
Although the demonstrators never came close to stepping on school property, sheriff’s Capt. Kathy Torre said that she and the officers under her command took action at the request of school officials who said they did not want the demonstrators on school property.
“They responded totally correct,” Torre said of the officers. “We don’t want anyone getting hurt.”
Torre showed The Robesonian a state statute entitled ‘Disorderly Conduct in Public Building” that makes it a misdemeanor offense for any individual to “make any rude or riotous noise, or be guilty of any disorderly conduct in or near any public building or facility.” The statute also stated that the term “building or facility” includes the surrounding grounds and premises of any building or facility used in connection with the operation or functioning of such building or facility.
Johnny Hunt, superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County, said in a statement that the Sheriff’s Office received information about a “potential protest.”
“… Officers from the Sheriff’s Department were on site to provide support to the school resource officer and the school’s administration,” Hunt said. “The Public Schools of Robeson County works closely with the local law enforcement agencies to maintain order and safety on all PSRC school campuses.”
Hunt didn’t directly respond to a question of whether the school administration or school board condones the aggressive action taken by the officers in dealing with the demonstrators.
“While we have a partnership with local law enforcement agencies, the Public Schools of Robeson County operates independently of law enforcement agencies,” Hunt said. “Our primary goal is always the safety and well-being of our students and employees.”
Attempts to reach Locklear were unsuccessful. But Hunt said school officials had met with community members from Saddletree on several occasions to discuss their concerns.
“Our administration has scheduled several meetings with the concerned parents in recent months and listened to their concerns,” Hunt said. “We are willing to meet with them again to discuss any of the issues or concerns about the school.”