The Transylvania Times -

Community Meets To Discuss Racial Incident - Brevard, NC

 

Last updated 6/14/2017 at 8:03pm

Matt McGregor

Brevard Police Chief Phil Harris (standing) listens to a participant at Tuesday's meeting.

Tommy Kilgore, president of the Transylvania County branch of the NAACP, said Tuesday he wanted to not just address the recent situation at Brevard High School but come up with solutions.

Kilgore was speaking during the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) chapter meeting at Bethel "A" Baptist Church in Brevard to discuss the recent alleged racial incident at Brevard High School on May 19.

"We are working with the school system, law enforcement and a number of different agencies who have made an effort to try to address these issues and try to create some type of dialogue and a plan of action," Kilgore said.

As previously reported, a white 16-year-old Brevard High School student has been charged with one misdemeanor charge of simple assault, one misdemeanor charge of communicating threats and one misdemeanor charge of ethnic intimidation.

The alleged victim, a 17-year-old black student, said the accused student threatened to hang him with a noose and swung a pocketknife at him.

The 17-year-old's mother, Rose Sample, whom Kilgore said has been working "diligently" to bring attention to the issue, attended the meeting and provided more background.

When her son told her about the incident, Sample said, they made a report to the school the next day.

"I informed the school first and foremost that I wanted the child, his parents and law enforcement at the school in the morning," Sample said. "But no one was there."

Sample said when she asked for law enforcement, the school sent a school resource officer.

"Again, I requested law enforcement to be present as I fully wanted to press charges on the kid," Sample said. "Eventually, after the school resource officer came and took our statements, the defendant showed up with his parents and made their statement."

She said she was told that she couldn't get a copy of the report or the witness statements until the court date, when they were made public record.

"As far as law enforcement goes, they finally decided to take out charges once they saw the video surveillance from the school, where it concretely shows the acts of this one person attacking my son, but the school would not give me a copy of that tape," she said.

Sample said, overall, there hasn't been much cooperation from officials.

"We really don't have anything to go to court with, and as far as I know, the District Attorney's office has not obtained the surveillance footage from the school, or taken the witness statements and the police are still being uncooperative about it all," Sample said.

She said that when she made the initial report, she was told that it meant she was pressing charges, though, she said, she was later told that was not true, and that she proceeded to press charges at the magistrate's office.

"Because the charges don't fit the crime," Sample said. "He was charged with one weapon, and he used two: a noose and a pocketknife, but this kid has only been charged with simple assault, ethnic intimidation and communicating threats. All three are only misdemeanors, and next year this child will be allowed to come back to school with my son, so I feel strongly that my son is not safe. And no child is safe there, if this kid is allowed to come back."

Sheriff David Mahoney had previously released a statement about the alleged incident: "This type of behavior is wrong, and we are going to stand with our community to make sure everyone knows that behavior like this will not be tolerated. My office will always investigate any allegations, and pursue charges to the fullest extent that North Carolina law will allow us."

Sample added that she did not want to turn this into a racial-related issue because in her research she has found that there is a bigger issue of bullying that takes place with everyone.

"I've learned it's not a back/white issue but a bigger issue with bullying in the Transylvania County school system," she said. "And I think that all of us here today need to come together and put a plan together to figure out what we can do that would mandate, offer suggestions, input, whatever we can come up with to get the school accountable for the safety and well being of our children."

Kilgore said he and members of the NAACP have met with Jeff McDaris, the superintendent of Transylvania County School Schools.

"It was a frank, informative dialogue," Kilgore said.

He said McDaris said that a lot of the problem does indeed lie within the system, but that he emphasized a lot of it also lies within the home and suggested children aren't born racist but taught racism in the home.

Kilgore added that McDaris said he and the school system are looking for ways to integrate a program into the schools that would help teachers and students.

At Tuesday's meeting, Susan Chambers said another program won't help.

"I taught in the school system for a long time, and I don't think this issue is easy, and there are a lot of facets to it," Chambers said. "But I don't think we need another program because the one we had a year and a half ago, the Spirit program, veered away from racial issues, and though it came up with good ideas, it just stopped."

Chambers said what McDaris needs to do is to say there will be no tolerance on any of his campuses in this county where hate language is used.

Shelley Bossert said that when her son was young he had a gun pulled on him at school, and it was the community that "rallied" around him to help.

"My feeling is we need to be like - an attack on your son is an attack on mine, and he needs to feel that he has our support," Bossert said.

Marion Crite, who played football for Brevard High and later North Carolina State University, said, like Sample, he is concerned about the misdemeanor charges.

"Something is wrong with the charges," Crite said. "Historically, from a black perspective, a noose is like a gun, and people use a noose to suggest they are going to kill you. So, if the charges are correct, and we know what a noose is all about, then what distinguishes that from not intent to murder and not being a misdemeanor? Because you use a noose to kill somebody, and that's the same as me taking a gun and saying, 'I'm going to kill you.'"

Brevard Police Chief Phil Harris said that while a noose is a more "emotionally charged" weapon, it may need to be around a person's neck before it became a felony.

"Is a noose more emotional? Absolutely," Harris said. "Does it need to be around his neck before it becomes a crime? If somebody has a stick and says, 'I'm going to hit you with this stick,' but it doesn't take place, we probably aren't going to charge the person with the felony."

Harris said that when he worked in Arizona there were hate crime laws, which he said meant adding another layer to an already committed crime.

"It's taking a crime and putting another element on it, so if I cut your tires and say it's because of who you are – age, race, religion – then that's criminal damage with the added element of a hate crime," Harris said.

In North Carolina, Harris said hate crimes are less broad and more specific.

"Ethnic intimidation is one, and there is a cross burning statute, so when we are looking at upgrading or changing laws, we may consider using the hate crime model in Arizona as a model to bring to representatives," Harris said.

In response to what Sample said about not being able to get all the witness statements and surveillance footage, Harris said the criminal justice system is set up to protect the person charged.

"So, in this particular case, what I think has happened is the case is under investigation by the District Attorney's and Sheriff's offices, so they are required to keep that information and not release it."

In a phone interview on Tuesday, District Attorney Greg Newman said law enforcement hasn't contacted his office about it yet, but that he is going to begin looking into the case.

"Nobody consulted us, and that usually means the police have a pretty clear idea of what they have and what the charges are, and the only time they call us is when they need to know to what degree they can charge a person," Newman said.

Newman said the situation was "clearly disturbing."

"Two things come to mind: racism is no good anywhere, and that's just unacceptable," Newman said.

He added, echoing Sample's earlier statement about bullying, that bullying has become a problem that affects not just different races but everyone.

"I don't know if that's a component of this or not, but I do know that it's an issue and we see that from time to time in our court system, and I know it exists," Newman said. "My experience is all the schools in my district take it very seriously."

Kilgore closed by saying, because of Sample's "diligence," the public interest in the incident has evolved much quicker than the previous alleged racial incidents that took place at Brevard High School and later in the community in November 2015, in which "ethnic intimidation" was involved.

In that case, the Transylvania County Sheriff's Office arrested three teenagers and a 20-year-old with ethnic intimidation-related charges.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) got involved in that incident.

"So far, nothing has turned up (on that case), and they don't generally close these cases," said Kathleen Barnes, a local NAACP member. "I have information that they have been informed of this (latest) case. The case may be different in that there is surveillance video of the incident and there wasn't of the other one. Whether that's going to make a difference, I don't know."

Shelley Lynch, a public affairs specialist for the FBI, confirmed that an investigation remains open on the previous incident, but the status of that case and whether or not they will look into the recent allegations couldn't be confirmed before publication.

 
 

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