Halls cleared, 3 arrested

Staff WriterMarch 24, 2010 

— The rancor that has swirled around the Wake County school board majority flared anew Tuesday as members ended the district's diversity policy, drawing angry shouts, a mass expulsion of protesters and three arrests.

As a series of board meetings stretched from midmorning into evening, opponents of the majority grew progressively angrier, realizing that the final vote wouldn't go their way. They made up the majority of the crowd and vented their displeasure.

"The nation's eyes have turned on us, and we've gone back 50 years tonight," said Diana Bader, a Cary parent and diversity policy supporter.

The most explosive moment came when protesters began chanting loudly in the hallway outside the board meeting. About 20 people banged on the walls and repeatedly chanted, "No resegregation in our town. Shut it down."

After the chanting had carried on about 10 minutes, board Chairman Ron Margiotta walked to the hallway, accompanied by police, to talk with the protesters.

Margiotta urged the crowd to show respect and stop interrupting the meeting. The protesters shouted back that the board members weren't listening to them.

Margiotta said he was giving them one chance. The protesters proceeded to start a new chant.

Police then lifted the protesters off the ground and removed them from the building. One person was arrested.

Two more protesters were arrested as they chanted outside the entrance to the school district's central administration building.

Dante Emmanuel Strobino, 28, of Raleigh was charged with second-degree trespassing, according to police reports, and transported to the Wake County jail. Protesters Duncan Edward Hardee, 21, of Asheville and Rakhee Shirish Vasthali, 22, of Fayetteville, were charged with resisting, delaying or obstructing a law enforcement officer.

"I thank the police officers for stopping a situation that could have gotten out of hand," Margiotta said.

Board member John Tedesco, who will be the chief architect of the community zone plan, said one of the protesters, a student from Enloe High School, scratched his car while slapping on posters that urged the majority to reconsider their decision.

Tedesco said he asked police not to arrest the student, but on one condition:

Tedesco, the student and the student's mother will sit down to talk.

A testy exchange

The tone inside the meeting room was also heated.

Margiotta told the Rev. Tom Rhodes, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, that it was time to stop when his two minutes of speaking time were up.

"You'd put God in a box if you could," said Rhodes, head of the Wake County Clergy Coalition, a group of local clergy that had asked the board to delay Tuesday's vote.

Margiotta shot back that "as a member of the cloth, you should show some respect for other people."

During the board discussion leading to the vote, crowd members would shout out comments accusing members of the board majority of not having facts to abandon the diversity policy.

Earlier in the day, some people complained about security measures requiring admission tickets to get inside the meeting room. Margiotta said it was done for fire safety.

Security officers initially told people, some who had arrived as early as 8 a.m., that they'd have to stay in the building until 3 p.m. to keep their ticket. They later relented and let people leave.

Hours later, after the board cast its vote ending the diversity policy, Raleigh resident Neferti Byrd addressed them.

"May God have mercy on you for the things you've done this evening," she said. "There's no need for Jim Crow to return."

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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