A viral video of a suburban white Maryland teenager disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement with inflammatory racist pronouncements has prompted a swift response from local school officials, who described the recording as “disturbing.”
The 30-second video, which quickly gained momentum in recent days on social media, shows a student at Mount Hebron High School, in Ellicott City, saying “who the [expletive] cares about some black man who dies?” The student goes on to say that black lives do not matter because “they are an inferior race, okay?”
The video ends with the student grabbing a five-dollar bill and holding it up to the camera to display the face of President Abraham Lincoln, saying: “This guy is a traitor to the white race.”
The video emerged amid a nationwide discussion on race in America’s public classrooms and college campuses, one that gained steam after racial tensions at the University of Missouri last fall led to massive protests, a near-boycott by the school’s football team and the resignation of the administration’s president and chancellor. Students at colleges nationwide in recent months have been vocal about pushing for meaningful change to what they see as institutional racism.
And the concern has arisen at the nation’s public high schools, too. Earlier this month, schools officials in Phoenix suspended six white high school students who posed for a photograph wearing T-shirts with gold letters that alluded to the n-word; in Berkeley, Calif., hundreds of high school students staged a protest in November after threats of a public lynching and references to the Ku Klux Klan were discovered on a school computer.
The demonstrations by teens and college students have come as the Black Lives Matter movement has influenced the political conversation during an election year. Inspired by police-involved shootings of young black men, the movement has spurred demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., where 18 year-old Michael Brown died in a scuffle with a white police officer; and Baltimore, where Freddie Gray, 25, died from injuries he suffered in a transport van while in police custody.
Mount Hebron High School, at which the student who made the video this week is also an athlete, is about 14 miles from Baltimore, in Howard County.
Howard County Schools Superintendent Renee Foose wrote in a letter to parents that the Mount Hebron student’s video has been “offending many people of all races, and reflecting poorly on students directly involved and those who chose to stand silent. This behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
The video shows the student being goaded by a team member into discussing his racial beliefs. After the video caught the attention of school officials, the student featured in it posted an apologetic message on social media.
“I am learning from this mistake, and hope to gain forgiveness from those who I hurt with my words,” he said. The student did not respond to requests for comment.
School Board member Ann De Lacy — who is African American and grew up in the South, attending segregated schools until ninth grade — said she had never heard anything like what appears in the video.
“Nobody ever said anything like that to me,” she said. “I was absolutely stunned. I don’t think I’ve seen anything as angry and demeaning before. It was so hate-filled. It was just shocking that a child that young could harbor such hate.”
Referring to the teen’s reference to Lincoln, she asked: “Is he sorry that we don’t have slavery anymore?”
De Lacy said that she would like to see a town hall as soon as possible at Mount Hebron that would bring all students together. She said that Mount Hebron has had a problem with racial tensions, and she had met with the principal about it two or three times this school year.
“This is not a laughing matter,” De Lacy said. “This is not a prank.”
DeRay McKesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter movement leader who was born in Baltimore, said that he saw the video and viewed its aftermath as an opportunity for a discussion in schools.
“Hopefully, this video will lead to robust conversations about racism and its impact in classrooms and amongst students and families,” McKesson said.
Students told The Washington Post that Mount Hebron,which was 49.8 percent white last year, has struggled with racist behavior in the past, tensions that were brought to light because of the video.
An area of the school where black students often congregate between classes is referred to as “the jungle,” they said. The students said it was not out of the ordinary to hear white students say racial epithets in the hallways.
One junior said that the video is just the latest instance of simmering racism at the school, where last year another student compared black people to “savages” and where white students sometimes overtly refer to black students as “monkeys” — or worse.
“It was not shocking because I know the type of people that go to my school,” said the junior, who The Post is not identifying because she is a minor. “It was just the first time they’ve gotten caught.”
Kwame Rose, another prominent Baltimore activist, said that the video showed that racism is prevalent even in suburban Maryland.
“It just goes to show the ignorance inside of the school system in Howard County,” Rose said. “It will take a different type of education for them to understand what’s wrong with that language.”
Foose said that the school is investigating the circumstances surrounding the video, which was made during a party at a student’s home in recent days.
In a “call to action,” Foose encouraged students to delete the video and refrain from sharing it.
“This is more than an example of irresponsible use of social media,” Foose wrote. “It is hateful. No Howard County public school student should engage in this type of conduct, nor do they need to be exposed to it.”
But Foose’s message appeared to come too late. The video, she said in her letter, had already been shared hundreds of times online.
It also is not the first time that the school has been forced to address overt forms of racism. In 2009, vandals broke into the school and scrawled “KKK” and drew Nazi swastikas on the walls.
In a letter to Mount Hebron parents, principal Andrew Cockley wrote that he planned to meet with the teenagers involved in the video.
“This is an incident when students were engaging in hateful conversations,” Cockley wrote.
Howard County spokesman John White said that no decision has been made yet about disciplinary action but that the student code of conduct covers offenses that take place away from school. A provision in the code notes that “disciplinary action may be taken for off-campus incidents if the action could have an adverse effect on the order and general welfare of the schools.”
White said that the Mount Hebron principal is planning to meet with the students involved in the video and their families next week to discuss the incident and any possibile disciplinary action.
Reg Avery, president of the PTA Council of Howard County, said the incident does not reflect the greater community or it’s values. “That’s not us,” he said. “This shocks me to the core. If someone espouses this kind of rhetoric, they have some very deep-seated issues and issues that need to be taken care of now.”
Avery said that he hopes parents would sit down with their children and talk about what it means to live in a culturally diverse society. “This is something that needs to be discussed,” he said.
Emma Brown contributed to this report.