Here we go again.
Arrests made at Fort Mill High School's recent graduation ceremony held at Winthrop University are stirring up emotions and debate. Six members of the audience were escorted from Winthrop Coliseum and charged with public disorderly conduct after allegedly cheering following the announcement of the names of certain grads.
That's double the arrests made at last year's FMHS commencement. A seventh person was also arrested and charged at the coliseum for allegedly cheering at York High School's ceremony.
Apparently, seven was the magic number that drew the national spotlight to Fort Mill, the Rock Hill Police Department and York County in general. Although last year's arrests was reported in the Fort Mill Times and our sister daily, The Herald, those stories did not trigger a flood of interest from syndicated TV news and entertainment shows, at least one well known radio personality and, of course, the blogosphere.
Not since the Jim Bakker and Jessica Hahn scandal that brought down the PTL has Fort Mill gained so much negative attention. Which begs the question: Is it deserved?
Judging by the response, the arrests are clearly unusual as far as the rest of the country, which hungers for news of the weird, is concerned. Some local residents, bloggers and mainstream commentators are saying the arrests are police state actions and an example that government is encroaching on civil liberties.
We can somewhat agree with that view. Police had the opportunity to exercise discretion and simply escort the audience members outside. Bringing in handcuffs, Miranda warnings, the expense of court appearances for the prosecutors as well as defendants - in other words, the entire weight of the judicial system - is clearly heavy-handed.
That's not to say the school district is not correct in wanting decorum at graduation. Since a particularly raucous commencement in 2002, the Fort Mill School District developed a policy that requires spectators to hold their applause until after the final graduate has been announced and accepts a diploma. Otherwise, they said, the announcement of a grad's name might be obscured by cheers for the previous grad.
Also, it's not as if there wasn't plenty of warning. The rules are printed on the tickets and the audience is reminded before the program begins. Most audience members seem to agree with the rules. Six alleged incidents with a graduating class of approximately 530 students is a rather small percentage.
However, no one should have to go to jail over it. At worst, the parking lot should be closed until after the ceremony is over so offenders have to wait until the last grad is announced before they can leave.
Hopefully, the next time Fort Mill makes national news it will be over something positive, such as the new museum in the works here or a resident's achievement, rather than some oddity.