Superintendent’s ‘extravaganza’ upstaged by rival protests

Superintendent’s ‘extravaganza’ upstaged by rival protests

While a little over a hundred people noshed on cookies and water inside the Ozen High School gym for the retirement “Extravaganza” of Beaumont Independent School District Superintendent Carrol Thomas, some citizens elected to stay out in the heat instead and exercise their First Amendment right of free speech.

Thomas detractors and supporters confronted one another in close quarters on a grassy knoll at the Ozen campus near the gym to let their voices ring during an hours-long standoff that, at times, was hostile to the point of intimidation, said some participants. Additionally, according to a complaint filed by Beaumont attorney Vann deCardova, the inaction of BISD Police Department officers assigned to provide security for the event allowed the sign-holding protest to become a racially charged attack.

In a letter sent to BISD officials, including the school district police chief and legal representatives, deCardova alleged BISD Police Chief Clydell Duncan “stayed on the sidelines, about 100 feet away, watching as a group of several young and not-so-young black thugs and openly proud racists physically and verbally confronted and intimidated our group of peaceful demonstrators, all of whom were white, some elderly women and young children.”

DeCardova said the group “raised and shook their clinched fists in the air, incessantly shouting ‘black power,’ calling us ‘crackers,’ ‘hood-wearing haters,’ and screaming for us to ‘go home … to Jasper.’”

When deCardova sought help from the police chief, “genuinely fearful that the situation would very soon turn into wholesale violence against us,” he said, Duncan “crossed the street and told everyone, even the peaceful demonstrators, to leave the property.

“By all appearances, and based solely on (Duncan’s) conduct, (he) permitted or desired escalation of a dangerous situation as an excuse to rid BISD of the demonstrators, in particular, our peaceful group that included children and elderly women.”DeCardova also had harsh admonishments for Duncan, personally.

“You demonstrated a shameful and contemptible lack of leadership as the district’s chief law enforcement officer,” deCardova wrote. “Not only did you place us at unjustified risk, your conduct merely showed to your subordinate officers that BISD administration’s desire to silence its critics comes first, even before the safety and well-being of the people allegedly you are sworn to serve and protect. You have helped destroy any remaining public trust that the BISD police will place the law first, above the personal interests of certain BISD officials and administrators. The BISD public deserves and demands much better. You should, in fact, resign.”

A response was immediately forthcoming from the BISD camp, although the chief’s resignation was not.

“I respectfully disagree with your characterization of my interest in the safety of you and the other protestors,” a letter sent to deCardova read. “I do not condone or support violence against anyone.”

Duncan’s letter states the BISD police officers were instructed to “maintain a peaceful environment (and) the fact that no one was hurt or injured proved that they carried out their instructions.

“Except for the pushing and shoving which occurred, I think that everything went OK. In regard to inappropriate language, we tried to control that language that was way out of bounds; as an attorney, you know that freedom of speech is very hard to limit.“The fact that all of you, men, women and children went home safely is all I can ask for. Believe me, in all my years of law enforcement I have never made a decision based upon the politics of the moment. This situation was no exception. I believe our mission to keep everyone safe was accomplished.”

DeCardova said he was skeptical of the correspondence and pointed out that the “pushing and shoving” was one-sided and directed only toward his group: “Duncan’s response, while sent by him, appears crafted by BISD PR and/or lawyers. It disputes none of my stated facts, merely attempting a whitewash of the sordid event and police inaction that placed citizens, women and children, at clear, unreasonable and unjustified risk of harm.

“That ‘everything went OK,’ i.e., that no one was physically hurt was despite Duncan, not because of Duncan. Although faced with incessant, rabid racially inflammatory abuse and physically threatening conduct, our group remained stolid. To anyone with a little common sense, the thugs’ clear and unmistakable intent was to create a racial powder keg, and then ignite it.”

Yet Duncan shied from intervening in the altercation, telling BISD trustee Mike Neil, “No one had gotten hit yet.”

In the end, the protestors made nice with of bottles of water offered by deCardova’s group, but the action, or lack thereof, by Duncan still has the lawyer fighting mad.

“I sent a formal complaint to his employers,” he said. “I expect an investigation into his actions, or rather inactions, and of course I want to know if anyone at BISD orchestrated the rival protestors being there in the first place.”