*CHICAGO – Two ministers representing the Chicago affiliate of the National Action Network will be in Durant, Okla., on Tuesday to fight for justice for five African-American student athletes at Southeastern Oklahoma State University who were expelled over an April Fools’ Day prank.
One of the students, Krishon Daye, is from Chicago, and his mother approached the network’s founder, the Rev. Al Sharpton, about speaking up for the young men recently when he visited Greater St. John Bible Church, where the Rev. Ira Acree is pastor.
On April 1, the athletes, all football players, allegedly put on ski masks to go knocking on the doors of some white friends’ homes saying “stick up,” frightening them and then running away, Rev. Acree said. He added that they carried no weapons, and no one was hurt.
The school has refused to release their transcripts, and the district attorney has filed charges. Two of the students were graduating seniors. The students are also barred from campus and their scholarships were revoked, Acree said.
Acree and the Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr., pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church plan to meet with the students, known as the Durant 5, the university president, Larry Minks, and the district attorney on Tuesday afternoon. The students are due in court on at 9 a.m. Wednesday to enter their pleas of not guilty on all counts. The ministers will hold a press conference afterward outside the courthouse.
Both ministers have been in the forefront of the struggles for social justice in Chicago, most recently in the rallies to protest the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer.
Rev. Sharpton said, “I am in full support of Rev. Acree and Rev. Hatch looking into the matter of the Durant 5, and I will be advised and guided by them as to how I would proceed once they have finished their investigation.”
The five, Matthew Leatherwood, Jercolby Bradley, Krishon Daye, Arinzechukwu “Izzy” Eziakor, and Keith Craddock, are each charged with five misdemeanors and one felony count. Warrants were issued for their arrests, but they turned themselves in. Leatherwood, Bradley and Eziakor are from Dallas, Tex., and Keith Craddock is from Charlotte, N.C.
“We felt that criminal charges were in fact appropriate at this time,” District 19 Attorney Emily Redman.
Rev. Acree said: “We understand that this was a very foolish prank, and these students deserve some form of censure, but why should their lives be ruined forever? There has to be a better way of handling this? I’m sure this is not the way this county wants to be perceived nationally, as the town that finds no place for redemption for juvenile indiscretions.”
Rev. Hatch said they want Redman to drop the charges.
“We want the university to accept their apologies and release their transcripts so these young men can go on with their lives,” he said. “They’ve already paid an awful price for their immature conduct.”.
The students have filed suit over the handling of the expulsions, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has protested on their behalf saying the students’ rights to due process were violated.
Watch a report on the incident from Oklahoma TV station KXII:
Jerry Thomas PR