RALEIGH, N.C. — Protesters and police scuffled Tuesday at a school board meeting in North Carolina over claims that a new busing system would resegregate schools, roiling racial tensions reminiscent of the 1960s.
Nineteen people were arrested, including the head of state NAACP chapter who was banned from the meeting after a trespassing arrest at a June school board gathering.
“We know that our cause is right,” the Rev. William Barber said shortly before police put plastic handcuffs on his wrists before the meeting started.
Inside, more than a dozen demonstrators disrupted the meeting by gathering around a podium, chanting and singing against the board’s policies.
After several minutes, Raleigh police intervened and asked them to leave. When they refused, the officers grabbed arms and tried to arrest the protesters. One child was caught in the pushing and shoving, as was school board member Keith Sutton, who was nearly arrested before authorities realized who he was.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho, resegregation has got to go,” some protesters chanted.
Sutton, the only black member of the board, said he went into the crowd to try and calm things down and encourage officers not to use such strong force. He said he felt insulted that he almost got arrested and believes the officer who tried to detain him owes him an apology.
“I’m just real dismayed and disappointed,” Sutton said.
The Wake County School Board has voted multiple times over the last several months to scrap the district’s diversity policy, which distributed students based on socioeconomics and for years had been a model for other districts looking to balance diversity in schools. Several school board members elected last year have built a majority in favor of focusing on neighborhood schools.
The board’s chairman, Ron Margiotta, said the panel would not be distracted in its effort to “provide choice and increased stability for families.”
“This board does not intend to create high poverty or low-performing schools,” he said to scoffs from the crowd.
At a morning rally that drew 1,000 people, speakers quoted Martin Luther King Jr., remembered the days of segregated water fountains and likened the current situation to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education battle. Barber talked about America’s legacy of racial strife to galvanize the crowd.
“Too many prayers were prayed,” Barber said. “Too many lives were sacrificed. Too much blood was shed. Too many tears were shed. We can’t turn back now.”
Barber’s supporters believe the new policy will resegregate schools. They carried signs that read: “Segregate equals hate” and “History is not a mystery. Separate is always unequal.”
George Ramsay, a white former student body president of Enloe High School, said it was necessary to keep the diversity policy in place to prepare students for an increasingly connected world.
“It is shortsighted to ignore the way students like me have been enriched by diversity,” Ramsay said.