marlienebastien_fc.jpgIt has been more than four  months since the riots broke at Miami Edison Senior High.  A student who allegedly was placed in a “choke hold” by a principal was arrested on Feb. 28.
On Feb. 29, several students who felt that the arrest was grossly unfair planned a peaceful rally. After doing some research, the students prepared a flier for the occasion. They spoke of their intent – their right to a peaceful assembly.

What happened next varies based on which protagonist tells the story. The police alleged that the students attacked them, threw chairs, food particles, milk and juice. Several police officers were said to be injured as a result.

The students recounted a completely different scenario. They denied the presence of chairs.  They claimed that they were having a peaceful protest when the police “descended with rage” in riot gear, batons, nasty dogs and stun guns.

Victims and eyewitnesses alike described how students were slammed to the ground, beaten, handcuffed and dragged to juvenile and adult detention centers, depending on their ages.

I went to Edison in the heat of the melee to meet with distressed parents. They had made repeated calls to the agency.  It was dezas konple in Creole, or complete disaster.

Panicked students, some covered with blood, recounted horror stories of how a girl was pulled by her weaved hair to the ground. A pregnant student allegedly was beaten on her stomach.  Some students claimed they were zapped with stun guns.

Their eyes were magnified by fear. The school was placed on lockdown, and parents starved for news of their loved ones cried, “Au secours!’’ which means “Help!’’

By midday, 19 juveniles of both sexes and nine young adults were arrested. They represented a diverse ethnic background:  Haitian-American, African-American and Hispanic.

Aside from a rather disorganized meeting coordinated by the principal, who rushed back from out of town to deal with the crisis, no official report was given to parents. They were left to grapple alone with the trial.

Hungry for information, they showed up en masse at a pre-scheduled meeting held at Edison Middle on March 5. They heard that Miami-Dade County School Superintendant Rudy
Crew, a known advocate who cares deeply for children, would be there. Feeling gravely abused and that their rights had been trampled on, they thirsted for someone with authority to hear and validate their concerns.

But Crew barely mentioned the incident, and simply noted that there would be an investigation. School officials rationalized his stance, saying that the goal of the meeting was to reward students’ academic performance…point final, meaning that is all.

Gravely disappointed, students and their parents walked out. Many were crying. The Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition demanded an investigation. In addition, they asked that all charges against the students be dropped. One by one, the students went to court. They were represented pro bono by the Haitian Lawyers Association with  the support of the
Caribbean Bar Association, the Cuban American Bar Association, the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Bar Association and the T.J. Reddick Bar Association.

One by one, nearly all charges were dropped. Karen Andre, a well known lawyer and chief defense team coordinator, said, “This is a tremendous victory. It is an example of the success that ensues when the stakeholders in a crisis work together in a collegial, calm and reasoned manner. I’m especially proud of the enthusiastic participation of the voluntary bar associations. This is the model of leadership and unity our youth need to see on a daily basis.”

Visionaries credit the quiet yet potent leadership of star lawyer and Haitian-American Bar President Kertch J. Conze for this historic coup de force. 

Reflecting on this herculean win, Conze exclaimed, “What happened at Miami Edison Senior High School in February of this year was a calamity. I am delighted that the cases against the Miami Edison students have been dropped.’’

Mr. Conze added: “We are so grateful for the participation of the various voluntary bar associations and others. We hope that with the dismissal of the various felony cases, the students will proceed with their future at Godspeed.’’

Impressively, the students showed a great sense of responsibility. They heeded their counsels’ advice, studied for the FCAT, and showed up in court as needed. They kept their end of the bargain.

Miami-Dade school district officials promised an investigation. It is high time that they deliver. Why? Because, as the old saying goes, “justice delayed is justice denied.’’

Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.