Portland schools, community, police respond to hate crime

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PORTLAND — Students, teachers, staff, and others at Casco Bay High School marched together Monday afternoon to protest what police have called a hate crime that took place at the city bus stop closest to the school late last week.

Several hundred students and staff were joined in the demonstration of solidarity by city leaders and police officers, according to the school principal, Derek Pierce.

Since police and school officials made the Jan. 27 incident public, the response has been “overwhelming and unequivocal that this (act) doesn’t represent Casco Bay High School or Portland,” Xavier Botana, the superintendent of schools, said Monday.

In a press release issued Friday, Assistant Police Chief Vernon Malloch said four black Casco Bay High School students were accosted after school Jan. 27 by an older teen who made racist comments to the students while they waited for the METRO bus.

The incident occurred on Allen Avenue at around 1:45 p.m., Malloch said. This week he said a motorist passing by the bus stop flagged down a police officer to report the incident. The perpetrator had left by the time the officer arrived.

According to what the students told the police, three other teenagers were walking past them at the bus stop when one of the boys made a derogatory and racist statement.

“A verbal confrontation followed and the suspect assaulted two of the students,” the press release said. At one point the boy even “brandished a knife,” the press release said, “before fleeing on foot down Abbott Street.”

As of late Monday no arrest had been made. Malloch said police were still investigating, including trying to determine if cell-phone video or photos of the incident exist.

The suspect is described as white, about 17, “with thin, patchy facial hair” and wearing “a distinctive, black ‘Insane Clown Posse’ hat with red trim.” He was carrying a large camouflage backpack. Anyone with any information about the identity of the perpetrator from last week’s incident is asked to call the police at 874-8575.

Malloch said the incident is being investigated as a hate crime because all four students were black and because of “the nature of the comments made.” He would not elaborate on what those comments were, but Botana said three of the four students who were confronted “clearly have an immigrant background.”

Both Botana and Malloch said they take some comfort from the fact that this incident is a first for the School Department; such occurrences are isolated in the city, according to Malloch.

“This is very disturbing because of the impact on the minority community. But fortunately we live in a city where this type of conduct is not tolerated and is rare,” he said.

Malloch said it’s too early to determine what charges the suspect could face, but did say the incident has also been reported to the civil rights unit at the state attorney general’s office.

Both Botana and Malloch also said they are proud of how the CBHS students conducted themselves during and after the incident, as well as by the community response.

Malloch said police would step up their presence around Casco Bay High School and the METRO stop and that the Police Department is “working closely with the School Department to support the victims and the rest of the school community.”

Botana said although the School Department will step up its efforts to keep kids safe at bus stops after school, not much can be done at the individual stops where kids board the buses before school.

“The community also has to unite and be aware” in order to prevent similar occurrences from happening at other locations where students gather, he said.

In terms of a specific response, Botana said the School Department will hire an adult to monitor the METRO stop closest to CBHS each afternoon and is also engaged in discussions with METRO about the possibility of installing video cameras at the stop.

In addition, during their advisory periods on Monday, students at the school were given the chance to talk about the incident in small groups, and Botana said school Principal Derek Pierce would meet with parents Tuesday evening.

Pierce said student advisory groups will be “submitting ideas for further action. Then our faculty and student leadership teams will review the ideas and recommend next steps.”

He added, “Our students often describe Casco Bay High School as a place where they feel free be their full selves. We are determined to keep it that way, and, whenever and however possible, we will also work to combat the injustices in our community and world.”

In an open letter to the community issued Sunday, Jan. 29, Botana said, “by all accounts, our students acted exactly as we would want them to act,” last week.

“They were remarkably mature and supportive of each other during a frightening time. They stood up to the alleged assailant, took appropriate steps to be safe and provided authorities with the necessary information to bring the attacker to justice. (And), they showed us that we are stronger together.”

Referencing President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 order banning refugees and others from seven Muslim-majority countries, Botana’s letter said, “Our world changed on Friday, (but) the staff of the Portland Public Schools is determined to continue to prepare our students to be active participants in a democratic society and bring about the change they, and all of us, desire and deserve.”

All of this took place against the backdrop of thousands of locals gathering both at Portland City Hall and at the Portland International Jetport at different times on Sunday to both protest Trump’s refugee ban and to call on U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, to oppose the president’s cabinet nominees and repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Hundreds of students and staff at Casco Bay High School marched after school Monday, Jan. 30, in response to a hate-crime incident that occurred at a nearby METRO bus stop last week. They were joined by city leaders and police.