A video recently went viral depicting students being forcibly removed from Middletown High School during the NFA-Middletown varsity basketball game. That video has become the subject of controversy in both Middletown and Newburgh. Officials met two Tuesdays ago to discuss the controversy.
At the most recent Middletown Common Council meeting, school surveillance footage without sound from the incident was shown to the public. Newburgh and Middletown residents attended the meeting.
During the public comment, members of the public addressed the situation. Ray Harvey, President of NAACP Newburgh-Highlands, opened up the forum.
“We have to come together to resolve this,” said Harvey. “This ain’t the first time and if we don’t resolve this, it’s not going to be the last. As adults, we have to take care of our kids, and that’s our responsibility.”
Harvey asked to set up a meeting with Middletown Mayor Joseph DeStefano and Middletown Police Chief John Ewanciw over the situation.
One of the students depicted in the video was 17-year-old Deonna Chambers of Newburgh.
“It was my daughter on the video that was being dragged out,” said Chambers’ mother, Juanita King. King commented in agreement with Harvey that the conflict was not new.
“We need to come up with a resolution,” said King. “The kids could have gotten really hurt that night. Not just our kids, your kids.”
Depicted in the video was Chambers and other minors being forcibly removed from the Middletown-NFA varsity game.
“It hurt,” said King when describing her feelings over the video. In the background, Chambers cried while her mother spoke. Chambers and King disagreed with her portrayal in the video.
Ewanciw presented two situations from the game. The game escalated to the extent that the Middletown Police Department needed assistance from state police and the Town of Wallkill Police Department.
The first situation was overcrowding, entry was refused to some spectators of the game. This situation became heated 30 minutes later after teens refused to leave. The second situation was when fights broke out in the parking lot. Three minors were detained due to the second situation.
Ewanciw said the chaos at the game was a result of disrespect from young people who refused to leave when told to do so. “They need to be taught respect, dealing with conflict, addressing their concerns in a more diplomatic way and they have to know consequences,” said Ewanciw.
Newburgh Councilman-at-large Omari Shakur spoke in support of Chambers. “We didn’t come to talk about a problem,” said Shakur. “We came to talk about a solution.”
Middletown Alderman Paul Johnson alluded to Eric Garner in reference to the situation. Johnson recalled an encounter where he asked an African American police officer her opinion on Garner. “If people do what law enforcement asked them to do,” Johnson recalled her saying. “Then most of the time, it would be a reasonably good outcome.”
“Regardless of race, color, gender, or outcome,” said Johnson, “If law enforcement is on the scene, they are the authority of that situation.”
Two Fridays ago, Shakur expressed discontent over the meeting on the phone. Shakur plans to help Chambers hire a lawyer to file a report against the Middletown Police Department.
“All they want to do is blame us,” said Shakur. Getting angrier by the second, Shakur criticized Johnson’s statement over Garner. He perceived the statement to be racially insensitive towards African Americans.
“We’re talking to lawyers and looking at these videos,” said Shakur.
The Superintendents of the Enlarged City School District of Middletown and the Newburgh Enlarged City School District recently met to discuss the situation. The meeting went over the implementation of common practices promoting public safety in future games.
“The Superintendent’s both applauded the sportsmanship among the athletes on both teams and noted that there were no issues by either athlete or fan inside of the facility,” wrote Cassie Sklarz, communications strategist for the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, in an email this past Monday.