WASHINGTON COUNTY (ABC4 News) – Students at Hurricane High School expressed disgust Monday after a racist photograph involving two of their fellow students surfaced on social media late last week.
Washington County School District released a statement Friday afternoon after the photo, which popped up on social media websites like Snapchat and Twitter, was brought to the attention of administrators on the evening of May 16.
The image shows three individuals in front of a Confederate flag. One person is standing behind two of the others who are on their knees. The person in the back is wearing a hood that resembles those often used by the Ku Klux Klan. The two in the front appear to be wearing blackface. The image was posted with the caption that included a racial slur. It read “N**** hunting 2019. I’m glad I could fill my tags this year.”
The district said the photo involves students and non-student adults, and “although this incident did not take place on school grounds or happen during school time, it does not minimize our abhorrence of this racist act.”
Hurricane High School students said the image left them feeling upset just days before graduation.
“It’s just cruel,” Hurricane High School junior Abbie Hermansen said. “People that do stuff like this, all they want is attention.”
Students said they’re torn when circulating the photo, wanting to bring awareness to racial injustice but fearing they’re spreading hate.
“You want to get the word out to say, ‘This is unacceptable and shouldn’t be happening,” but then you’re giving them exactly what they want,” said Hermansen.
While some students said the photos are inexcusable under any circumstances, others said they’re an act of protected free speech.
“I mean it doesn’t make me happy, but it’s their freedom of speech,” Derick Nielsen said, who is a junior at Hurricane High School. “I can’t stop them.”
The district emphasized that the views in the photo do not represent the views of the school, staff, or students.
Hurricane police, who are currently investigating the incident, said they do not condone the students’ message but are also aware of their right to free speech.
The district released the following statement in response Friday:
Words of disgust and sadness are insufficient to describe our feelings regarding the image that was brought to our attention the evening of May 16. This repulsive photo does not represent the concern, love and care of Washington County School District. Although this incident did not take place on school grounds or happen during school time, it does not minimize our abhorrence of this racist act.
The photo involves students and non-student adults. Appropriate discipline for the students involved began immediately. Yet no level of discipline can repair the hate, bigotry and ugliness portrayed in that one picture. The vulgar ignorance and idiocy on display are beyond repair by any small discipline we can provide. We have welcomed officials from local and federal law enforcement to review the offending photo for potential criminal violations. We are also consulting with legal counsel as we consider additional administrative actions.
As an educational institution, we will continue to teach! We will teach of love, kindness and inclusion; of respect for the fellow human beings that share our neighborhoods, our communities and the hallways in our schools. We will remind students that there is absolutely no room for the intolerance, and hatred displayed in this image. Finally, as district administrators, we are considering what education would be helpful for students to understand the significance of civil rights protections and violations, as well as appropriate use of social media.
Two students do not represent the views of the nearly 32,000 students, nor of the staff and teachers in our schools throughout Washington County School District. While we are sickened by this photo, we will move forward with love as we further educate our students.
Jeanetta Williams, President of NAACP Salt Lake Branch, issued the following statement about the photo:
“We are appalled at the picture and display with the derogatory words with the two youth and adult with the Confederate flag. More appalling is an adult in the picture with these youth including the person who took the picture. We do not blame the school or its officials, but the individuals who took part in this hateful act. It is unfortunate that a small number of ignorant people would have others outside of Utah label the state as racist. We are better than this.”