Clergy calls for mediation in Wake school board protests
Posted January 24, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — A group of clergy is calling on the Wake County District Attorney's Office to reverse its decision to seek trials for protesters who disrupted school board meetings nearly two years ago.
Thirty people, including 10 students, were charged with trespassing after demonstrations in June and July 2010 against the school board, which at the time was in the process of changing the district's longtime student assignment policy.
On Tuesday, Rev. Earl Johnson, pastor of Martin Street Baptist Church and president of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, urged the district attorney, instead, to seek speedy mediation in the cases.
Johnson said that protesters had "every right" to stand against the board's actions and called the DA's decision not to pursue mediation "unjust and unfair" to "those who were merely exercising their constitutional right to protest."
"We believe that this decision for trials would not only tie up our judicial system, cost taxpayers thousands of dollars, put innocent men, women and children on trial, it would also create a national embarrassment for our state," he said.
District Attorney Colon Willoughby said Tuesday that he approached the school board and protesters last year about mediation but that he had trouble getting both sides to agree to it.
The board initially agreed to it, he said, but the protesters did not. By the time they agreed, the board had changed its mind, he said.
"I was pushing the rock up the hill, and I got weary of it," Willoughby said.
Earlier this month, the new board reconsidered it again, board attorney Ann Majestic said, but it decided not to revisit the idea and to let it play out in the justice system.
Johnson urged the school board to also reconsider.
"We are extremely troubled also by the board's Democratic majority decision to leave in place the board's decision not to offer mediation," he said. "We hope that they will have a change of heart and state publicly their opposition to trials for the protesters and seek to reverse their decision during the board's Feb. 7 meeting."
Willoughby said that there are options other than trials – such as deferred prosecution or dismissals – and that his office would be looking at those in each case.
During a break at a school board work session Tuesday afternoon, several board members said it is unlikely they will change their minds about mediation and will let the courts handle the cases.
"One of the reasons we took no action is that we have some confidence that the district attorney's office could do what was appropriate," board member Susan Evans said. "We were hoping he wouldn't take 30 people to trial, because we don't think that's in the best interest of the taxpayers."
Board member John Tedesco said it is also important note the board's offer for mediation was rejected once before.
"For them to come back and ask for mediation after the political landscape has changed, I think, is their effort to play political gamesmanship," he said. "I think, at this time, it's time for this board and this community to move past this. This is in the hands of the DA at this time."