Students at Deering High School and Portland High School held unity events outside each of the schools on Friday, Feb. 3. The purpose of the events was to express solidarity with students at Casco Bay High School – after some CBHS students recently were targeted in a racially biased hate crime – and to reaffirm the district’s commitment to making all students feel welcome in the Portland Public Schools, Maine’s largest and most diverse school district.
The events were held at the end of the school day. PHS students marched around the school on Cumberland Avenue bearing signs with such messages as “We Are United!” (written in English and Spanish) and “We Support All Students.” Students called out such chants as, “Never divided, always united” and “We are PHS.”
PHS Principal Sheila Jepson said, “Our focus is on unity and support for our community – our school community and our greater community. We are one!”
Mayor Ethan Strimling and Superintendent Xavier Botana were in attendance.
DHS students gathered outside the school building on Stevens Avenue waving signs with such messages as, “We Stand By CBHS” and “All One School.”
The “Stand of Solidarity” event at DHS was initiated by the school’s Human Rights class, a social studies elective for upperclassmen. Teacher Kirsten Platt said students are studying the Holocaust and that has prompted them to stand up against hate crimes and divisive policies. “The Human Rights class feels it is necessary to address both the recent attack at Casco Bay High School and the new government policies targeting refugees and immigrants,” students said in a statement. Student organizers stressed that the event was about “a human rights issue” and that the tone was “positive and supportive.”
Later on Feb. 3, Portland police announced they have arrested a Portland man in connection with the recent bias-motivated attack against the CBHS students.
Jamie Hoffman, 20, of Portland was arrested on Friday, Feb. 3 and charged with interference with constitutional and civil rights; two counts of assault; and criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon stemming from the Jan.27 incident, police said.
Police described the incident this way: While waiting for a bus after school a group of black students were verbally accosted by Hoffman with racial slurs. Two students that came to their defense were then assaulted by Hoffman. When other students came to their aid, he displayed a screwdriver in a threatening manner towards the group, resulting in the felony criminal threatening charge.
Police said Hoffman also was arrested on outstanding warrants charging him with failure to appear for burglary to a motor vehicle and theft.
“During this investigation citizen witnesses came forward with invaluable information that helped detectives identify Hoffman,” police said in a statement. “The swiftness of this arrest would not have been possible without the assistance of students from the Portland Public Schools and the members of the public that heard reports of this crime through the media and then came forward with the crucial information needed to aid in identifying Hoffman.”
Police also said, “This type of incident is disturbing and has no place in our community. We have forwarded this case to the Maine Attorney General for possible action under the Maine Civil Rights Act.”