The events unfolded when police received reports from the Fire Department that youth were fighting at the Together Days festival at Riverbank Park about 6:30 p.m. June 4, according to a police press release Monday.
Police recognized one of the males involved in the fight as someone who had been fighting at the festival the night before, had been issued a trespass order and told to leave the park.
The youth was escorted to the front of the park Saturday to be given a trespassing warning when “an animated crowd formed around officers,” according to the press release.
The youth refused to give officers his name or birthdate and officers took him to the public safety building “to deescalate the situation, call a parent to take custody of the juvenile and issue a written trespass notice,” police stated.
When the crowd arrived and banged on the windows, officers went outside and talked to them, the release said. The group left after about 20 to 30 minutes. It was unclear how many had gathered.
The youth was released to his grandmother at 7:27 p.m.
Officers had found a knife in his pocket, the release said, but police “elected not to charge the juvenile with criminal trespass and/or carrying a concealed weapon.”
A review of body camera footage of the incident showed that “minimal force was used to escort the juvenile from the park. The juvenile was never handcuffed or mistreated,” the police press release stated.
The incident, the release said, “had nothing to do with race.”
“It had to do with behavior. Fighting is illegal. So is criminal trespass,” the press release stated. “There are consequences to unlawful behavior. Moreover, officers working the detail at Together Days trespassed numerous people of different races from the park over the course of two days for fighting and unruly behavior. Together Days is a community event and the officers working the detail are responsible to maintain a safe environment for patrons to enjoy.”
The incident spurred a demonstration by about 60 Westbrook Middle School students Monday, according to Principal Laurie Wood.
“The way a white officer was interacting with a Black boy made them uncomfortable,” said Principal Laurie Wood.
“I have no reason to think the officer did something wrong,” she said. “(The students) weren’t even alleging that, but they felt it was an overreaction or it was the wrong guy.”
Wood and Superintendent Peter Lancia said the students’ hourlong protest Monday was peaceful and inoffensive. Lancia said he was unsure if the student involved in the incident Saturday was present at the demonstration.
The middle school students left their classrooms about 9 a.m., marched for on the school grounds and then walked to the high school, where five to eight high school students joined them, Wood said. They then walked to the Public Safety Building and Riverbank Park, where they held signs and chanted.
Police were present, Lancia said, along with members of the school staff and school nurses.
“It’s not a school-sponsored event by any means, but if students felt the need to do that, we made sure they did safely,” Lancia said.
Upon their return to the middle school, the students were gathered to discuss the protest before returning to class. They will be required to make up any work they missed during their protest.
During that discussion, the students also brought up “school-related issues,” Wood said, including a lack of people of color on the teaching staff and that Black History Month curriculum in some classes focuses solely on slavery.
She said school administrators plan to meet with some of the students this week to further discuss their concerns.
Mayor Mike Foley said in his Monday Mayor’s Message that he believes the incident gained momentum because of “misinformation” on social media.