Irvington NAACP, others defend actions of Orange vice principal

IRVINGTON, NJ — The Irvington NAACP is speaking out about the incident that occurred Thursday, Oct. 12, at the intersection of Central and Lincoln avenues in Orange that involved Orange police officer Hanifah Davis, twin sisters from Orange High School and Orange High School Vice Principal Mohammed Abdel Aziz, who is also the school’s athletic director.

Kathleen Witcher, the Irvington NAACP vice president, who is also an Irvington Board of Education member, has joined in the discussion regarding the limits of teachers and administrators’ responsibilities with regard to their students. She said she believes “in loco parentis,” which refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the responsibilities of a parent, extends to public school teachers and administrators when students are at school.

“In loco parentis certainly stands for the treatment, care and oversight of children as they leave from home and go to school, until their return home,” said Witcher on Wednesday, Oct. 18. “I am sorry when any child must be arrested and I have rarely, if ever, heard of a school official being ticketed while responding to student fights or other activities.”

According to Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren and his brother, Orange Police Director Todd Warren, Davis ticketed Aziz on Friday, Oct. 13, when the vice principal tried to intervene in an altercation between the officer and the students.

A video of the incident clearly shows Aziz becoming involved, then being slammed into one of the storefront windows. The girls, high school seniors, were charged with obstruction, assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.

Aziz was also cited by Davis for attempting to intervene on the girls’ behalf and issued a ticket. Davis was suspended with pay, pending the outcome of an investigation of the incident being conducted by the Orange Police Department Internal Affairs Bureau and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.

The incident has generated a strong reaction from both sides.

The Rev. William Rutherford Jr. pushed to have Davis fired immediately in the wake of the incident and sought to use the recent case of Maplewood Police Chief Robert Cimino as an example.

Cimino recently was suspended with pay and then reached an agreement with local officials to retire after an incident in which officers were filmed attacking black youth after the July 5, 2016, firework display in Maplewood.

“I’d like to cite the Maplewood incident as precedent,” said Rutherford on Monday, Oct. 16.

Witcher also mentioned the Cimino case.

“I was not present for the incident. I do not know why the officer responded by arresting the young ladies, nor why the school official was ticketed,” said Witcher on Wednesday, Oct.18. “Perhaps there are some new rules that govern how law enforcement handles incidents today. Perhaps it comes on the tail end of the resignation of the police chief in a neighboring town, whose officers are said to have mishandled a crowd incident involving teenagers there. At any rate, it looks to me like better judgment may have resolved the issue, allowing the school to handle the problem.”

“The NAACP is very pleased that Ms. Kyasis Sorrells and Ms. Nyasia Sorrells were extremely fortunate that they were able to walk away from their ordeal with only bruises,” local NAACP President Tom Puryear wrote in a letter to Mayor Dwayne Warren on Saturday, Oct. 14. “It is important for your office to encourage the township’s Internal Affairs Unit to effectively and promptly review the recent incident involving Officer Hanifah Davis. And, if appropriate, forward to the Essex County Prosecutor’s office all pertinent and relevant information about the incident that occurred on Oct. 12, in the vicinity of Orange High School.

“In addition, our organization petitions your office to publically share with the community, at the earliest possible moment, any videos that have captured the recent incident. This latter request is needed, so that residents will have confidence in their future interactions with Orange police officers.”

Reggie Miller, coordinator of the Rutgers University Male Student Support Program, which operates out of Orange Preparatory Academy, said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“I always hated the kids gathering on the corner over there near the pizza shop and the store, because I always felt like something like this was going to happen,” said Miller on Monday, Oct. 16. “We are in charge of the kids until they get home. There’s no time-frame involved with that. That creates a big problem because of after school events and activities and sporting events and stuff. (Aziz) is out there helping them. It’s part of the job.”

Dawan Alford is an Orange native and a co-founder of the 1 Family 2gether 4Ever nonprofit organization. He said he has been involved in many charities with Aziz, and spoke highly of him.

“Mr. Mohammed (Aziz) continues to display a genuine care for our city’s young people that extends beyond the scope of his job title. He goes above and beyond to provide support to our youth and gain their trust which is critical if you want to have an impact on our children,” said Alford on Tuesday, Oct. 17.

“The lack of community engagement from the Orange Police Department needs improvement. Public relations at (the Orange Police Department) fails to inform community members of how they are responding to the continued violence. The Police Athletic League program is practically non-existent, their recruitment strategies don’t require officers to know any local stakeholders and they fail to designate liaisons to community groups who need them most. Warren’s only been there a short time and we’re not blaming him, but we need more cross-sector collaborations, when exploring solutions.”