Portland’s superintendent of schools on Sunday evening denounced an alleged hate crime targeting four black students that took place Friday afternoon outside Casco Bay High School on Allen Avenue.

In an open letter to the Portland public schools community, Xavier Botana assured parents that the students “are physically fine” and that school officials will help them heal any emotional or psychological wounds they may have suffered.

“By all accounts, our students acted exactly as we would want them to act. They were remarkably mature and supportive of each other during a frightening time,” Botana said. “They stood up to the alleged assailant, took appropriate steps to be safe, and provided authorities with the necessary information to bring the attacker to justice.”

Portland police, who had not made any arrests as of Sunday evening, said that the four ninth-grade students were approached by an older white teenager who made racist comments and waved a knife while they were standing in front of the high school waiting for a Metro bus. The white teenager was accompanied by two other individuals.

Assistant Police Chief Vernon Malloch said a verbal confrontation ensued and the white teenager assaulted two of the students. The attacker wore a hat with the name of the band Insane Clown Posse – a hardcore hip-hop group – on it. The hat was black with red trim.

“Violent incidents like this that are motivated by hatred and racial bias are disturbing,” Malloch said in a news release issued Friday.

Botana, in his open letter, said that police will increase their presence outside school buildings for the near future and the school department will consider additional security measures.

“More importantly, I want to take this opportunity to encourage all of us to understand the noxious environment in which this deplorable event took place,” said Botana, the son of Cuban immigrants. “On Friday, the President signed an executive order barring immigrants from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States. This came on the heels of another order to build a wall along the United States’ southern border.”

Botana was born in Cuba. When he was a young child, his parents put him on a flight to Spain with instructions for a stewardess to make sure he arrived safely.

He lived there for two years with his grandparents before he was reunited with his parents in the United States – after they had obtained visas. The mass exodus of Cuban minors become known as Operation Pedro Pan. It was driven by parents who feared that Fidel Castro would decide how their children would be educated.

“As someone who came to this country along with my family fleeing repression and injustice, not a single day goes by when I don’t think about what my life might have been if the current policies had been in place in November of 1963,” Botana wrote. “I am struck by the realization that fate and timing, not the inherent principles that I thought were the bedrock of this nation, are the reason that I am here today, able to raise my voice.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

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