Berkeley High School students stage mass march after ‘racist threat’ message discovered on computer

Black Student Union says message is ‘an act of blatant terrorism’ and, although disappointed, says ‘we are not surprised’

Students chant 'We got that unity!' and 'Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!' as they march through downtown to University of California, Berkeley
Students chant 'We got that unity!' and 'Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!' as they march through downtown to University of California, Berkeley

Students at a high school yesterday walked out of classes to stage a 2,000-strong march over a racist message which was discovered on a computer.

Pupils at Berkeley High School in California, US, were said to be ‘hurting tremendously’ in, what is now, the third racist incident to rock the school over the past year.

The school’s Black Student Union (BSU) took to Twitter to post a screenshot of the image which was found. Littered with derogatory terms, it seemed to be in favour of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and read: “KKK forever public lynching.” (Warning: contains language some may find disturbing and offensive):

In a statement, the BSU called the message ‘an act of blatant terrorism’ towards the black students and staff members at Berkeley High, and added: “Though the BSU is disappointed that this happened, we are not surprised.

“We are disgusted by this act of terror and demand it be investigated as such. The safety of black students has been explicitly threatened and we, as the Black Student Union, demand that this is addressed immediately by the Berkeley High administration and Berkeley Police Department.”

In an email to the student body, Principal Sam Pasarow called the act ‘a hate crime’, and said: “Messages such as this one will not stand in our community.”

Speaking with the San Francisco Chronicle, Berkeley school district spokesman, Mark Coplan, confirmed that the student who created and distributed the post admitted doing so to school officials in a statement. However, Coplan did not provide a name or outline what disciplinary action, if any, would be taken.

Our students are hurting tremendously. They’re weeping. They’re crying.

Reflecting on the emotions of the students, Coplan told the site: “We really understand the students’ pain, their anguish and their fear and are doing everything we can to work with Berkeley police and other agencies to figure out what happened.

“Our students are hurting tremendously. They’re weeping. They’re crying.”

District officials also told local media that the message was not part of a mass hack, but was a modified screenshot of the school’s web page found on one computer.

The students who planned the march have now turned their attention onto school officials who, according to reports, ‘should have reacted more quickly’ after it came to light that the school’s principal addressed the situation 11 hours after it occurred.

One student told the San Francisco Chronicle students should have been made aware of the incident sooner because ‘lives are in jeopardy’, and added: “That’s what made us even more mad. That was the first question we asked him. Why the delay?”

In December last year, staff and students spoke out after a noose was found hanging from a tree on the campus. Shortly after, in the spring, the school’s yearbook was deliberately altered just before going to print.

Making reference to an academy within the school - which reportedly serves students of colour - the group was referred to as the ‘trash collectors of tomorrow’.

The school and district have yet to respond to The Independent’s request for comment.

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