Racial mockery at Hopkins High sparks outrage; Black student handcuffed

Nekima Levy-Pounds

UPDATED 6/13/2013 • It seems like a case of when keeping it wrong goes real.

What started as a celebration of the Hopkins High School's cross country ski team qualifying for the state tournament culminated is outrage, signs in protest and the suspension and criminal charges of two African-American students who decried what they felt was racial mockery. And, according to supporters of the African-American students, no disciplinary action was taken against the white students who openly mocked African-Americans.

The incident began on Feb. 13; when eight to 10 white members of the school's ski team came to school dressed in motley ensembles of do-rags, fur coats, white tank top undershirts, sagging pants and gold chains. One even had a fake marijuana joint tucked behind his ear. Somehow word spread that the students were celebrating a "Ghetto Spirit Day." Those who came to school in costume dispute this assertion, and claimed to school administrators that they were dressing up to mimic popular white rapper, Macklemore, who sings "Thrift Shop."

"That's absurd," said Nekima Levy-Pounds, a civil rights attorney and associate professor at the University of St. Thomas' School of Law. "They called it 'Ghetto Spirit Day' and when I looked at the pictures and video of them it was evident their intent was to mock African-Americans. What they claim is laughable, just laughable."

Levy-Pounds said the Macklemore claim is just a convenient out for the members of the ski team.

In Macklemore's hit song, "Thrift Shop" he tells a tale against designer consumerism. Macklemore is very out front about showing cultural tolerance, even choosing to perform in t-shirts that call for the legalization of gay marriage. A very detailed image search of Macklemore could not find the rapper dressed in any of the attire the Hopkins students donned, minus the fur coat, which he wears in his video for "Thrift Shop."

What has Levy-Pounds and others so outraged is the notion that, to date, no disciplinary action has been taken against members of the ski team for violating the school's policy of racial harassment and bullying, but two African-American students who posted signs in protest of the "spirit" activities were suspended due to their protest efforts, given criminal citations for a non-physical dispute with an assistant principal and, according to Levy-Pounds, one was even handcuffed. According to Levy-Pounds, the criminal charges stemmed from the students trying to retrieve their protest posters from the trash, where the assistant principal had placed the posters.

"The way (the African-American students) were treated it felt like they were being retaliated against for standing up. Rather than using the incident as a teachable moment, the school used it to criminalize these young African-American men," said Levy-Pounds. "I applaud (the two students) for not responding with violence and addressing the situation in the manner they did."

Levy-Pounds said the school's response is indicative of a pervasive school culture that seeks to indoctrinate African-Americans into the criminal justice system.

"It's a part of a pattern; part of a system that continues to devalue young Black men," said Levy-Pounds.

Hopkins Superintendent John Schultz said due to federal student privacy rights he could not discuss and disciplinary actions taken by the school, but said the actions of the ski team were not reflective of the overall environment at Hopkins High.

"There was no spirit week going on and there was no Ghetto Spirit Day," said Schultz. "This was all student driven by some members of the cross country ski team, who said they were dressing like a rapper."

Schultz said the members of the ski team were pulled aside by faculty the day of the incident and informed that their attire may be offensive to people of different cultures. However, according to Levy-Pounds, nothing more was done and days later the team went on to compete in the state championships. Levy-Pounds said the ski team's antics clearly violated the school's written policy against racial harassment and should have warranted disciplinary action.

Levy-Pounds said she has called on the district to bring in a third party investigator to look into the incident and make disciplinary recommendations. Schultz said the district is bringing in a third party investigator, but that investigator has yet to be determined.

Civil rights attorney Levy-Pounds has also called for the district to expunge the suspensions from the affected African-American students' records and to have all criminal charges dropped.

"These students should be given a written apology from the district," said Levy-Pounds.

UPDATE 6/13/2013:

This week, the school and students and prosecutors reached an agreement to dismiss the charges and erase the suspension. According to the Hopkins High School statement republished on MPR:

"In an effort to address the concerns being raised by students, parents, and some community members, Hopkins Public Schools began an independent investigation into the matter and also subsequently agreed to participate in a restorative justice process to ensure understanding on the part of all stakeholders. The process included Hopkins Superintendent John Schultz, the Hopkins High School principal, the associate principal, the two African American high school students involved in the February incident, as well as their attorney, Nekima Levy-Pounds. For all involved, the restorative justice process was a step in the right direction to promote healing and understanding. ... All of the participants agreed to continue to work together on these issues." 


POINT(-93.4117699 44.9585881)
  • Seems to me that if the protesters had posters that were not incendiary, they had the First Amendment at their back. If that is correct, I hope the white guys get suspended for six weeks, and must make that time up in summer school; I also hope for a couple of pink slips for the administrators involved in their tolerance of bullying and harassment. As a student at De La Salle High School in 1979-1980, I was horribly abused by four bullies who were harassing others. Principle Brother Henry Power admitted awareness of the bullying, on the morning that I went to school a half hour early to let him know that I would be checking into Fairview Riverside Hospital's adolescent psychiatric unit for severe depression and anxiety. I remained there until graduation day, graduating with honors and singing at the Basilica of Saint Mary with the rest of my choir. I'd practiced singing while in the hospital -- and also made cream puffs from scratch a few times for something to do. The staff and other young patients were happy I was there. - by Barry N Peterson on Fri, 04/19/2013 - 9:20pm
  • Since conservatives seem to have taken off the day to go engage in whatever leisure activities they enjoy, I'll speak on their behalf (and I know they'll thank me for this): why are our hard-earned tax dollars being squandered on cross-country skiing in the public schools? - by Bart Vanzetti on Sat, 04/20/2013 - 1:16pm
  • Everybody keeps making excuses: that's not racial. who cares. its disgusting how some of u think. the rapper clearly doesn't dress the way they did, and who do u think they ate referring to when they are dressing ghetto? They were even warned, and it was already considered racial harassment, yet no action was taken, not even a demerit or a ciatation. yet a student tries to get a poster out of the trash and gets suspended?! Stop the madness. no physical action happened but the student gets handcuffed? just stop it. - by Talliyah Draper on Sat, 04/20/2013 - 8:35pm
  • The article doesn't address the allegation that the students suspended engaged in manner that physically threatened the school employees. Behavior that could be describes as assault. This causes me to suspect the author's motive is to mislead the public to further an agenda. - by Donald Allen on Sun, 04/21/2013 - 2:42pm
  • Don't think the protesters should've been singled out, but How about posting those pictures & videos the attorney is characterizing for us? - by Charlie Quimby on Fri, 04/19/2013 - 8:48pm
  • Alison Canty, it's time. - by Verona Mitchell on Sat, 04/20/2013 - 12:57pm
  • I'm sorry, I didn't get the memo that certain clothing was limited to certain races. Those two students must feel a lot of privilege if they feel they can be the school's fashion police. Gosh darnit, these two students feel offended, who is anyone to tell them they can't violate school rules, take stuff from the principal and push a police officer. - by Jack Evans on Sat, 04/20/2013 - 10:33am
  • Disgusting. - by Michele Olson on Fri, 04/19/2013 - 8:27pm

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I know plenty of white people

I know plenty of white people who do dress like this and you and these students who want to be a victim and make it racial is really sad. They are going to be crying their whole life how unfair everything is and blaming it all on race. THAT IS NOT RACIAL! disgusting

NOT Racial

quit crying about stuff that has nothing to do with race. Does this mean an african american cant wear dr martens,skateboarding clothes, hockey gear? how silly lol.

You're obviously not paying

You're obviously not paying attention to the context of the situation.  You need to judge this situation in it's full entirety--not just the clothing.  

Perspective needed

Public schools tend to be very rigid and this leads to big problems, such as in this unfortunate situation.  The costumed students should have been asked to go home and come back in school clothes because their costumes were offensive to good taste and offensive to the black students...incident over.  Since this wasn't the way it played out, all the tension engendered expressed itself in righteous, legal non-violent protest...second opportunity to require the offensive costumes to be replaced with school clothes out of respect for the black students in exchange for the cessation of the protest.  Instead, why not call the cops and crucify those uppity black kids?

Until they start hiring intelligent creative and flexible management, public schools will continue to make mountains out of mole hills, and show kids that power and rigidity win over powerlessness and reason.  This fiasco at Hopkins High was entirely avoidable.

police in schools?

What struck me here is that the black students were criminalized by being handcuffed by police officers who evidently were in the school--more or less what the NRA recommends? High school, even grade school students are being criminalized all over the country for minor infractions like picking their own posters out of a trash bin where the principal had thrown them. Horrendous trend in America--in-school police making criminals out of kids who should, at most, get after-school detention.

Interesting: that the white kids get off scot-free here. (I'm white.)

It's not the act, it's the intent.

Don't confuse the issue. There is nothing wrong with people dressing a certain way, but when those people dress that way for the purpose of mocking a certain group of people, it's wrong. Had the white kids discussed in this article dressed that way everyday, there would be no article. This is only an issue because it appears these kids dressed that way for the purpose of making fun of a certain race or classification of people. 

Listening

This was a learning opportunity and school is the place where we spend our time doing just that learning.    If the students were offended, it should  have been a time where the faculty stopped, had all parties sit down and listen to the other side.   The students who felt as if the students were making a mockery of their race and culture were not asked to listen closely or spend time with the students who felt the offense.   This is the same culture we continue to bring kids up in and everyone believes they get to weigh in and say what they want without knowing the full story from both sides.   The kids who got suspended were treated differently then the students who decided to make a statement, thinking they were doing it at no ones expense.  When they found out it created an uncomfortable situation, they had the opportunity to listen to why and hopefully begin to change the culture we live in.   And for the person who says to quit crying, silly is the fact that you have never experienced or know what it is like to have been discriminated against or you wouldn't be speaking in a way that gives no one voice.

 

Being a former student

Being a former student athlete at Hopkins....this is absurd. The purpose of "spirit" is to wear something outside your usual self to easily promote an event coming up. People know that there must be a meet, match, or game, because you usually don't dress in that attire. Furthermore, assuming that "Ghetto" refers to African Americans is racist in and of itself. People of all descents live in ghettos, dress like "rappers" and idealize street culture. When we wore coconut bras and grass skirts, no one got offended. When it was Army day, no one was offended by us wearing camouflage even though none of us were in the armed forces, and no boys were offended when we had "dress like a boy day." No beauty Queens were in outrage when we wore tiaras and pretty dresses, superman was not up in arms about super hero day, and burritos everywhere allowed us to wrap ourselves up in tinfoil for the day. It is all done in fun, and with intention to raise awareness about an upcoming event.


 


It is a stretch to say the least, that this is a racially fueled incident.