NORRISTOWN — About four dozen people attended a demonstration to decry a decision by the Montgomery County district attorney to pursue charges against a Black Muslim student at North Penn High School who they say was attacked by two classmates, had her hijab forcibly removed and was “the victim” of the incident.

“We are here today because what is happening to her is not right. This has fundamentally altered her life,” Timothy Welbeck, a civil rights lawyer for CAIR-Philadelphia, addressed the crowd outside the Montgomery County Courthouse on Wednesday on behalf of Sanaa Beaufort.

“We’re here to stand with Sanaa. Sanaa is the victim here. Sanaa has endured horrific pain and suffering as a result of this attack. Both physically and emotionally it’s taken a great toll on her, a great toll on her family,” Welbeck said.

According to its website, CAIR-Philadelphia works to ensure that the American Muslim community is fully empowered to navigate the American civil and legal systems.

Demonstrators called upon District Attorney Kevin R. Steele to not charge Beaufort, who supporters maintained was attacked by two students in the school cafeteria on May 4, during which her hijab was forcibly removed in the fight and she was made to walk through the hall without her hijab.

Beaufort, supported by her parents, thanked the crowd gathered on the steps of the courthouse.

“This has changed my life completely. I’m no longer just a normal student. It’s not fair that I have to go through this,” Beaufort addressed her supporters, at times choking back tears as she recalled being fingerprinted by police earlier this week. “I had never, not once in my life, been in trouble with the police or the justice system. I had to endure that. None of this feels right to me.”

Many in the crowd, including some North Penn High School students, applauded Beaufort’s public appearance at the rally.

“The amount of love and support that I’ve been getting, phone calls and text messages, and people stopping me in public has been absolutely crazy but at the same time amazing. I don’t know what I would do without my school friends and peers because they have really been the backbone,” Beaufort said. “This has been a crazy ride but it’s not over. We won’t let it rest. We will get justice.”

Those who attended the demonstration carried signs that read “Black Lives Matter At School,” “Solidarity” and “An Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat to Justice Everywhere.” At one point, the crowd chanted, “No Justice, No Peace.”

Kevin Leven, of New Hope, Bucks County, co-founder of the Bucks County Anti-Racism Coalition, showed up to support Beaufort and carried a sign that read “No Excuse, Do Better.”

“We’re here to voice our support from outside the county and let people know that this is bigger than Montgomery County,” Leven said.

Several members of the Lansdale Library Diversity Committee Coalition for Racial Equity and Social Justice were also in attendance.

Steele issued a statement after the demonstration concluded.

“The investigation of the fight in the North Penn High School cafeteria involving three female students showed that all three girls were mutually engaged in and responsible for the fight. Each of the three girls were charged with the same thing—mutual combat assault,” Steele wrote in the statement.

“Further, each of the girls were offered diversion in our Youth Aid Panel, a diversionary program that uses community service, assignments and other learning opportunities for youth in lieu of proceeding in juvenile court. After completing the diversion program, a child has no juvenile record,” Steele said.

Steele added his office reviewed the totality of the Towamencin Police Department’s investigation “and found no evidence that racial or religious bias motivated this fight. We have been, are and remain committed to fairness and justice for all in our system of criminal justice.”

Welbeck claimed no charges have formally been filed against Beaufort “but the process has begun,” adding Beaufort had to present herself at the Towamencin Township Police Department on Monday to be fingerprinted and photographed.

Welbeck confirmed representatives of the district attorney’s office have suggested a resolution that includes admitting Beaufort to a juvenile diversionary Youth Aid Panel program.

“We have been presented a resolution that we do not find satisfactory because it labels Sanaa as an offender, and as we have maintained since the beginning of this incident, Sanaa is a victim. She was attacked. Sanaa defended herself and now Sanaa has to defend her reputation in addition to the ongoing ordeal she is facing,” Welbeck said.

“If we formally reject that offer, then this matter could proceed further; there could be hearings scheduled further but there are none scheduled as of right now. Or the D.A. could back off. That is what we’re here for, that is what we’re hoping for,” Welbeck added.

According to Welbeck, there are no meetings currently scheduled with the district attorney’s office “but they have made themselves available, so there is a clear line of communication.”

“There is an opportunity to continue the conversation and hopefully, we will get to a resolution that does not involve any further criminal proceedings,” Welbeck said. “The family is still considering their options but today we wanted to bring awareness of what’s happening.”

Welbeck said he based his contention that Beaufort was the victim during the high school incident on three things including, Beaufort’s statements, a school surveillance video of the incident and a student’s video recording of the incident.

“When I make my arguments before you I make them in the full context of those three things,” Welbeck explained.

Others showing support for Beaufort and speaking at the rally included state Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, who represents parts of Montgomery County, state Sen. Sharif Street, of Philadelphia, and representatives of POWER Interfaith.

Welbeck said he previously met with school officials.

“The school has revoked Sanaa’s suspension. The school did allow Sanaa to complete the school year. We believe all of that bodes well for the narrative that we have put forth, that Sanaa is a leader at her school and that Sanaa is a victim here,” Welbeck said.

In the fall Beaufort will be a senior at the high school but it was unclear on Wednesday if Beaufort will return to the school.

“That’s a decision that her and her family will make. Ultimately, they will decide what is best for her. The school has said she can return but the family will determine whether they believe that is the best option for her,” Welbeck said.

comments powered by Disqus