Berkeley High School library website displays threatening, racist language

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Chen Gong/File

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Update 11/5/15: This article has been updated to reflect the conclusion of an investigation by Berkeley High School administrators, which identified the student responsible for the image.

Members of the Berkeley High School community expressed outrage after one of the school’s library computers displayed threatening language toward black individuals early Wednesday afternoon.

A screenshot — tweeted by Berkeley High School’s Black Student Union, or BSU, on Wednesday night — appears as a rendered image of the library’s website, with a message superimposed over the original text of the library’s home page with words that read, “KKK Forever Public Lynching December 9th 2015,” in addition to including racial epithets and hostile language. In the image, the poster indicated solidarity with the Ku Klux Klan.

School district spokesperson Mark Coplan said that the screenshot was left open on a computer as a displayed image and that there was no hacking involved to change the actual website’s contents. 

 

“We are disgusted by this act of terror,” said black student leaders in an statement released by the high school’s BSU on Wednesday night. “The safety of Black students has been explicitly threatened.”

Similar reactions flooded social media after the BSU publicized the screenshot.

The administration launched an investigation Wednesday, according to an email sent by Berkeley High Principal Sam Pasarow to students that night.

“This is a hate crime and messages such as this one will not stand in our community,” Pasarow said in the email.

On Thursday afternoon, as thousands of students had just finished protesting through the city and at UC Berkeley, high school officials concluded the investigation after a student sent forward a statement to administrators confessing to the actions.

The administration is now considering what disciplinary action will follow and has turned over evidence to Berkeley police, who will determine if there is any criminal charge. The student’s name will be kept confidential.

“We are working hard to create a positive and inclusive school culture and we recognize the deep pain and rage that hate crimes such as this one bring to our students of color,” Pasarow said in the email. “We recognize the need to address the harm that this has caused.”

In their press release Wednesday night, BSU leaders called on the campus administration to respond to what they described as a “blatant act of terrorism” against the black community.

In their demand, black student leaders referenced two prior discriminatory incidents involving underrepresented minorities. In October 2014, a noose was found hanging from a tree on the high school’s campus and was quickly removed by a Berkeley High safety officer, though no one was found to be responsible for hanging the noose.

And earlier this year, the high school recalled its yearbook after an inappropriate comment — which described members of the Berkeley High Academy of Medicine and Public Service, one of Berkeley High’s small schools with primarily black and Hispanic students, as “future … trash collators” — was slipped into its text.

After the controversy over the yearbook language, along with the noose incident the prior year, then-BSU president Kadijah Means wrote in a letter that a “pattern of failed communication” existed between high school administration and students. Means went on to characterize the climate at the high school as “hostile.”

To mitigate the harms of Wednesday’s incident and begin a healing process within the campus, part of the administration’s future actions includes giving back Dec. 9 — the date referenced by the poster’s lynching threat — to the school’s black students, creating a space for them “to regain their power and take back the day,” Coplan said.

Bo Kovitz is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @beau_etc.