Dozens of Westbrook middle and high school students walked out of class Monday morning to protest the police department’s detention of a student Saturday night, saying the treatment of their black classmate highlighted the discrimination they experience in school.

Westbrook Police Chief Sean Lally issued a statement in response to Monday’s march through the streets of downtown Westbrook, which he described as peaceful, and the student’s detention during the Westbrook Together Days festival at Riverbank Park.

“The detention of this juvenile had nothing to do with race,” Lally said. “It had to do with behavior. Fighting is illegal. So is criminal trespass. There are consequences to unlawful behavior.”

Student protesters, however, blamed racism for their fellow student’s treatment. They told Newscenter Maine that the student, who was detained, but not charged, is Black.

“We watched our friend, a person that everyone in Westbrook knows, get detained for no reason,” eighth-grader Hadil Zackaria, who organized Monday’s protest, told Newscenter Maine.

“We wanted to come out here because we feel like it’s necessary because of the things that that are happening – and the things that happened over the weekend at the park,” said Emma Brown, a Westbrook High School student. Protesters on Monday marched from the school complex on Stroudwater Street, through downtown Westbrook to the Riverbank Park, and then to the police station.


Westbrook police said the student engaged in similar behavior – fighting and trespassing – at the festival on Friday. He was asked to leave again on Saturday as a large and “animated” crowd gathered. Officers decided to take him to the police station, a short walk from the park, and were followed to the public safety building by a crowd of students.

“A crowd of juveniles descended on the Westbrook Public Safety Building and banged on windows and looked for ways to get inside the building,” Lally said. The crowd dispersed after 25 minutes and no one, including the detained student, was arrested. He was eventually released into the custody of his grandmother.

“I personally witnessed a majority of the incident on June 4th,” Westbrook Mayor Michael T. Foley posted in a statement on Facebook. “I was proud of the professionalism of our officers and handling of the situation given the circumstances. We are also grateful to support Westbrook Police Department in the recent deployment of body-worn cameras which captured the entire events and which can also confirm the handling of this difficult situation.”

Lally pointed out officers working the detail at Together Days event cited numerous people of different races for trespassing at the park over the course of two days for fighting and unruly behavior.

About 60 students – mostly middle schoolers and some high school students – participated in Monday’s protest, Westbrook Superintendent Peter Lancia said.

“While this was not a school sponsored event, school administrators and staff, as well as our school resource officers and Westbrook police, accompanied the students (during the march) to ensure their safety,” Lancia said. “It was a peaceful, nonviolent protest. Students indicated that this was in response to the event in the community over the weekend.”

Lancia said he views the protest as an opportunity for dialogue with students and the community about some of the underlying issues students feel the need to discuss.

A similar walkout and protest occurred last month in Portland when 200 students gathered outside Lyman Moore and Lincoln middle schools in Portland to protest what they said is a culture of tolerance toward racism, bullying and other forms of discrimination at their schools.

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