On Wednesday, a 20-year-old student at Winston-Salem State University, an HBCU in North Carolina, was arrested in her classroom after an argument with her professor over an essay. The video of her arrest has since gone viral and created significant controversy, with many suggesting the arrest was unnecessary and racially motivated.
In the video, the student being arrested, Leilla Hamoud, is screaming as the police – one white officer and one black officer – try to handcuff her, saying they are hurting her. However, it appears she is the one fighting against them and making it much more difficult than it should be for them to restrain her.
The other students in the classroom began yelling at the officers as well as the teacher.
Meanwhile, Professor Cynthia Villagomez, co-chair of the university’s political science, history, and social justice department, implored her students to calm down and insisted that she was trying to “de-escalate” the situation.
Villagomez is also heard saying, “I was trying to apologize.”
Reportedly, Villagomez was not the one who called the police. Rather, it was another teacher in a nearby classroom who heard the commotion and called the officers to diffuse the situation.
The police got Hamoud into handcuffs as she began to cry and yell at her professor, saying, “I hate you! I swear to God I hate you, I swear to God I hate you, you’re the worst teacher ever!”
“You get me taken out in handcuffs because I won’t apologize?! You started yelling at me, you tried to embarrass me about my paper. You’re a terrible teacher!” Hamoud continued yelling as she sobbed. “She’s sitting here and saying she love black people and stuff… You yelled at me first.”
@HBCUBuzz @hbcu @wssualumni @HBCUfessions PT 1 and 2. There’s no justifying what Dr. Cynthia Villagomez did to Leila. There’s no justification for how these two officers handled Leila. Calling the police over an apology that you didn’t deserve. All must be held accountable. pic.twitter.com/JxC5qNfRGL
— HBCUshaderoom (@hbcushaderoom) December 14, 2022
It is hard to say with certainty exactly what led to the arrest, as conflicting stories have been presented from the university, Hamoud, and her classmates.
In a statement, WSSU officials said that they “understand that the weaponization of police is a prevalent problem in our community; however, that is not what happened in this incident.”
On Wednesday, Chancellor Elwood Robinson commented on the situation, saying, “There was an incident this morning involving a student and a faculty member that has escalated on social media.”
“We strive for a safe, inclusive, thriving, and intellectual community where all our faculty, staff, and students feel respected and supported. To that end, we will take swift and appropriate measures against any situation that contradicts those ideals.”
University spokeswoman Haley Gingles reported that the police call was a last resort, occurring at least 10 minutes after the verbal altercation began between Hamoud and Villagomez.
“From the time the initial disturbance started until the end when the video clip started, it was a significant amount of time. Certainly, it was more than 10 minutes,” Gingles said.
Some of Hamoud’s classmates spoke out on the incident. One of the classmates, Taji, defended Hamoud and told the story of what happened from her own perspective.
“You have these police officers being aggressive with Leilla like she threatened someone or physically harmed a teacher, when Leilla’s at the back of the classroom and the teacher’s at the front of the classroom,” Taji said.
I talked with Taji, who says she was inside the classroom yesterday and saw the incident. She shared her thoughts with me on WSSU's statement. She also described to me the events that led up to the 20-year-old student's arrest.
I'll have the full report tonight on WXII at 11 pm. pic.twitter.com/qzio2SqpzI
— Louie Tran (@louie_tran) December 15, 2022
In a video released after the incident went viral, Hamoud posted an Instagram Live video sharing her side of the story.
Hamoud said that, on the day of the incident, she had a final group project due for her class which included a live presentation and a written essay. According to Hamoud, mere hours before the group presentation, Villagomez emailed her asking her to redo the written part of the assignment.
However, Hamoud did not have enough time to redo the essay before class, so she attended without a revised written portion. In the Instagram video, she said, “I’m not going back and redoing this essay that took me two weeks and you told me six hours before. And I still came to the final to present with my group because that was what we were supposed to do.”
Villagomez supposedly got angry with Hamoud for not redoing the essay and said she could either apologize for not redoing the essay or leave the classroom. However, Hamoud chose neither of these options and stayed in the classroom to try and finish her presentation because it made up a large portion of her grade.
Hamoud then described the escalating moments of the argument, saying, “So, boom, she starts yelling at me telling me this is her class [and] it doesn’t matter what I think.”
“I started getting loud back, I’m not going to lie to you guys,” admitted Hamoud. “I was raising my voice too.”
Hamoud continued, saying that she told her teacher, “Dr. V, I’m not going to redo it. I’m here to present with my group, like I’m here to get this done and get out.”
However, Hamoud said that the professor continued demanding that she leave the classroom. When she refused, Villagomez left the room and went to speak with a colleague. Shortly after this, campus police arrived on the scene.
The black responding officer approached Hamoud when he arrived and asked her what happened. Supposedly, as Hamoud was telling her side of the story to the officer, Villagomez came up and said, “Yes officer, I want her taken out.”
After being removed from the classroom, Hamoud was charged with a second-degree misdemeanor and released from police custody since she doesn’t have any prior misdemeanors.
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Many people online have expressed the concern that it was unnecessary and inappropriate to call the police to the scene over a disagreement. Others have turned their anger toward the professor, sending her vicious comments and threats online.