Mr. Snyder's Opus

A police beating can't hold back the Hallandale band director and his irrepressible charges.

The Battle of the Bands pitted Hallandale's drumline against those from others in the area, like Fort Lauderdale's Stranahan High School. The competition was good-natured on the field, but in the stands, taunting started between fans of competing schools.

As Stranahan left the field, Snyder shepherded his band to the bleachers. Just as they sat down, though, a commotion started below. A Hallandale student — a spectator, not a band member — was brawling with a drummer from Stranahan. "Me and some parents ran down there to break up the fight," Snyder says. "And by the time I got there, the other teacher was trying to break it up. I asked the student why they were fighting. That's when the police officer came over and grabbed me."

This was Jerry Williams. He had not met Snyder in advance of the meet — the hiring was done over the phone — but Snyder was wearing a crimson Hallandale High T-shirt, and an ID card dangling from his neck identified him as a band director. When he felt Williams' grip, Snyder says, he told the cop he was a band director. Williams wasn't impressed. "He told me he didn't 'give a fuck' who I was," Snyder says. "Those were the words that came out of his mouth."

His Hallandale High band room is a place for discipline and inspiration.
Colby Katz
His Hallandale High band room is a place for discipline and inspiration.

Williams, who is white, twisted Snyder's left hand and cuffed it. Then he did a leg sweep, throwing Snyder to the pavement. As Williams put his knee into Snyder's back, distraught band students swarmed Williams and his partner, Ian Sandman. "They started grabbing on the police officer," says Snyder, and while other parents and teachers tried to keep the students at bay, Williams struck Snyder hard over his left eye. Snyder thought it was Williams' fist, but witnesses claim it was the officer's baton.

According to witness reports, Sandman kicked Snyder, which only aggravated the Hallandale students. They kicked and punched at the officers, while from the ground Snyder yelled for the kids to back away. Williams pepper-sprayed them.

In the affidavit he filed in Snyder's arrest, Williams tells another story. He says Snyder took an "aggressive stance towards the student" involved in the fight. "I told him to 'Stop fighting,'" Williams writes. "'What will the school think if you fight a student?'" He claims that Snyder "pushed against me with his body and then struck me in the chest with his left elbow." Williams says that Snyder twice tried to break his grip and that, even after he took him down, Snyder was trying to stand up. This was why he hit him, the officer alleged.

There was a puddle of blood where Snyder had been lying, and before he could be jailed, he was taken to Holy Cross Hospital, where he received 17 stitches on a gash that had opened over his left eye. Snyder was booked on felony charges of resisting arrest and battery against a law enforcement officer. It would take till morning to bail him out; in the meantime, he sat in a jail cell, trying to make sense of what had happened.

"I always used to tell my kids, 'I want you to respect the police officers because they're the law,'" Snyder says. "But then they see different. I kept thinking, 'How am I going to explain to the kids not to let this distort their minds?' Because not all police officers are like that."


Lamont Snyder grew up in Carol City, in north Miami-Dade County, the second of eight children, all of whom went to college. His father, a dentist, wanted young Lamont to follow in his footsteps. The young man preferred the drums and followed that passion to Bethune-Cookman College. For a short period, Snyder played with K.C. and the Sunshine Band, but his real calling wasn't performance; it was education. Snyder earned his master's degree in music education and returned to South Florida for a job.

Along the way he married his high school sweetheart and raised a family of four daughters and one son. At 51, he already has nine grandchildren. Snyder counts the hundreds of past Hallandale High band members as his kids too. "Many of them come from homes that have one parent, so I'm like their parent," Snyder says. Some students even call him Daddy.

"He's a father figure to everybody," says Xavier Smith, a senior who is the band's second drum major. "He has done so much. We all look up to him."

Snyder also teaches band at Hallandale's Gulfstream Middle School and McNicol Middle School, on the Hollywood side of Pembroke Road. To the most promising students he encounters there, Snyder makes a nearly irresistible recruiting pitch: Continue under his tutelage and, when the recruiters come round, you'll get your chance to play your way into a college scholarship.

"Ever since I started recruiting, Hallandale High is a continuous stop," says Donovan Wells, band director of Bethune-Cookman's marching band. "One thing I've noticed about Mr. Snyder is not only is he concerned about educating the students as individuals; he cares about them attending college."

Snyder estimates that he's taught 150 students who have gone on to play for college bands, most of whom ended up at his alma mater, Bethune-Cookman, for which Snyder admits a slight bias.

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