Two incidents ofracial violence that have unfolded in a single week in Wake County Public Schools—both videotaped and widely circulated on social media and one including a chant of “KKK!”—have administrators seeking ways to stop such incidents from occurring in the system.
But whatever next steps Wake County officials undertake will come in addition to the current practice of cautioning students in their code of conduct and elsewhere against racist conduct and bullying. (Students already receive training that forbids the use of the racially derogatory language heard in a video made by Leesville Road Middle School students and another shot at Wake Forest High School.)
“You are noticing, just like we are, that there are two incidents that have occurred,” Wake County Public Schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten said Friday. “That warrants a conversation and we are having those conversations about, ‘What does it mean? What do we do? What is our responsibility?’”
The most recent episode went public Wednesday, when a videotape shot Tuesday night—showing white three Leesville Road middle-schoolers using the “n-word” and other racist language referring to Jews, Hispanics and Arabs—started circulating and dominating discussion at the North Raleigh school.
“Go back to the fields of Alabama,” says one of the students, who have not been identified. “Go back to the factories in Mississippi. You don’t deserve freedom. KKK!”
Luten said the students have been appropriately disciplined, citing federal privacy laws that prevented her from going into specifics.
“The video was circulated on social media on Tuesday night, but the next day it was what the students were talking about in school,” Luten said. “They were not learning.”
Leesville Middle principal Cindy Kremer sent parents a message after investigating the matter and disciplining the students involved.
“Here at Leesville Road Middle School, the expectation is that we adhere to high standards for all students,” Kremer said, in part. “This video violates those standards and its messages will not be condoned in our school.”
Last week, images of a Wake Forest High School student identified in news accounts as Micah Speed, an African-American, went viral. The online footage showed him slamming to the ground a white student, who referred to Speed by a racial epithet after the confrontation. The other student had been taunting Speed for an extended time before the incident, according to a petition on change.org that had garnered more than 37,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.
“What Micah alleges is that he was the victim of racial bullying,” Luten said. “What we have said is that under any circumstance bullying is not acceptable and would be addressed by the code of conduct.”
Supporters of Speed have asked that the other party in the video, who has not been named, be subjected to the same ten-day suspension that Speed received. School officials would not release specifics of discipline in either case.
Some observers, mostly from the left end of the political spectrum and including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have noted an increase in hate crimes, in schools, and outside them, during the past year. Some have attributed any increase to racial tensions heightened during the election campaign of then candidate Donald Trump.
An accounting of recent North Carolina hate crimes wasn’t available Friday. The state legislature has mandated nine offenses that schools must report to the state Department of Public Instruction, but hate crimes are not among them. Accordingto the most recently released FBI statistics, about forty-eight percent of U.S. hate crimes in 2015 were committed by white people and about half that percentage by African-Americans. Of 5,818 so-called “single-bias incidents” that touched 7,121 victims, about six of ten arose from a “race/ethnicity/ancestry bias,” FBI numbers show.
Some conservative commentators have asserted that many of the reported anti-minority attacks have been recanted and that cases of attacks on Trump supporters are more easily verifiable. In an article entitled “Are There Really More Hate Crimes At Schools Following Donald Trump’s Election?” Forbes columnist Maureen Sullivan wrote in November: “Emboldened young supporters of President-elect Donald Trump, we are told, have taken his triumph and turned it into an opportunity to harass, humiliate and even assault people at schools and colleges around the U.S. The problem is finding examples of pro-Trump activists wreaking havoc on schools and campuses that hold up to scrutiny. In fact, it’s much easier to find examples of violence against students who have openly backed Trump; there are more than a few stories of kids being pummeled for disagreeing with the losing side.“
In contrast, both of the racially charged Wake County incidents have been widely viewed online and are subject to viewers’ interpretations. Neither video mentions Trump.