- Increasing criminalization of children: How did we get here? (FCN, 12-04-2005)
- Zero tolerance: From the schoolhouse to the jailhouse (FCN, 04-12-2005)
PALMDALE, Calif. (FinalCall.com) – During an Oct. 1 community meeting in the Pete Knight High School theatre, more than 80 parents and relatives of Black students called for the termination and arrest of a campus security guard whom they charge has a history of excessive force and harassment against their children. They said enough was enough when security guard Chris Niemeyer broke 15-year-old Pleajhai Mervin’s wrist on Sept. 18 because she did not pick up enough birthday cake that had spilled on the floor.
“When he slammed me on the table, he said, ‘Hold still you nappy head.’ I just kept asking him to let me go because he was hurting my arms. I just started crying. I felt humiliated and hurt,” Pleajhai told The Final Call.
Mr. Niemeyer, who is Caucasian, weighs approximately 300 pounds or more; Pleajhai is Black and weighs 115 lbs. News media released footage showing Mr. Niemeyer restraining the girl, and then leaping upon another student, Joshua Lockett, who was videotaping the incident until he was attacked by security guards trying to take the camera, which he passed to a friend before going down. When Mr. Lockett’s sister, Kenngela, begged them to let him go, she said, another guard attacked her, fracturing her arm.
Mr. Niemeyer is suspended with pay until further investigation, and all three students were arrested for assault charges. Joshua, who was expelled from school, was released from jail with a gag order on Oct. 5. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5.
Kenngela was placed on home study, and Pleajhai was suspended for five days. The families have retained legal representation.
Pleajhai’s mother, Latricia Majors, told The Final Call that she called 911 for police assistance in finding her daughter on the campus after she had waited for approximately 30 minutes, but they arrested her for allegedly assaulting an assistant school principal when she walked pass him to look for Pleajhai. The single mother has been suspended without pay from her job at another school district pending a Nov. 20 court hearing.
“I am seeking justice for me and my baby. I want everybody held accountable for their actions. No one has apologized to my child or my family for what happened,” she said.
Since the incident, parents have cited numerous complaints of harassment, abuse and racial profiling of students on the campus and in the community by the school’s security guards and the police. At least five of the complaints were also against Mr. Niemeyer. They are seeking an independent investigation into their complaints. According to Attorney Cook, there are only two official written complaints regarding Mr. Niemeyer on file.
They have also formed the Black Parents’ Union to organize an agenda for justice, which includes having Mr. Niemeyer removed from duty and criminally charged, putting an end to the $200 citations that parents receive by sheriff deputies for minor violations at school.
Panelists for the approximate 4-hour meeting included Palmdale and Lancaster city officials, community leaders, a parent representative and Dr. Susan McDougal, Knight High School principal. On the job approximately one month, she declined to address the parents, however, Dr. David Vierra, Antelope Valley Union High School District (AVUHSD) Superintendent, said that the matter is being taken very seriously.
“If we’re going to address this issue, it’s going to take more than just the school. It’s going to take the community. It’s going to take the ministry. It’s going to take law enforcement and it’s going to take parents in the home,” he said.
Najee Ali, the family’s spokesman and a community activist, commended the panel for tackling the issue head on. He wants all charges dropped against the children and Ms. Majors, whom he calls the Palmdale 4, and has scheduled a rally in front of the Palmdale District Attorney’s office for Oct. 11. A national protest rally is scheduled to take place on Nov. 20 in front of the Palmdale Courthouse. “This issue is making us come together and we are hoping that the District Attorney will grant justice for everyone involved,” he stated.
The meeting was facilitated by Atty. Bridget Cook, General Counsel for the AVUHSD, and was observed by James Williams, III, a Conciliation Specialist for the U.S. Department of Justice. The session overheated as parents repeated their pleas for answers and to be able to express themselves. “You cannot hear the needs and concerns of the parent body or this community if you want to control in a very, very narrow stream how it’s communicated and how it’s said and whether we’re allowed to speak,” stated Leah Evans, whose son graduated from Knight High with a 3.8 G.P.A., but has a felony charge because he and a teacher bumped into each other after he was involved in a fight.
“You are not truly here to hear our concerns as a parent. You are not truly here to hear this community. There is too much control in this dialogue and I implore you to open it up and to be flexible because these are the reasons why there are issues with our children or with our community, and you’re handling us in the same way that you handle our children,” she continued.
Stan Muhammad, a gang intervention and prevention specialist with Venice 2000 and the H.E.L.P.E.R.S. Alliance, an umbrella intervention group comprised of various organizations, helped to restore calm and get the meeting back on track by offering to keep time so that each parent could be heard.
Stacey Ford said that last year sheriff deputies raided his home, took several personal items and drew guns on his 10-year-old child, because Knight High claimed that gang bangers lived there, he told the panel.