Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Racist video by Liberty High student sparks outrage from Washington State NAACP

UPDATE, 11:12 am: Adds details on school location and clarifies that the video was made off campus. 

A racist video showing a student from a high school in unincorporated King County near Renton has sparked outrage among African-American parents and the Washington State NAACP.

The video showed a girl doing a cheer spelling out “KKK” and then saying black people should be hanged. She used the N-word to refer to black people. The girl attends Liberty High School in the Issaquah School District.

Michelle Piper, who is African-American and has twin sons who attend the school, said she and her husband were deeply troubled by it. In December, she said one of her sons received the video via Snapchat and that it circulated widely through the school and even to the broader community.

“It’s a threat to black people. You actually are saying to hang black people,” Piper said. “Given all that is going on in this world right now, especially with school shootings and everything else, how are we supposed to feel safe within the school?”

Liberty High School’s principal, Sean Martin, sent an email to families in December saying that the video “contains racist content that is clearly inconsistent with our Liberty High School values and with our Issaquah School District values.”

He asked families to talk with their students about not sharing the material and said, “We want to maintain and preserve an inclusive, welcoming, focused learning environment.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report last year detailing a trend of incidents involving hate speech and racism in schools. Last year, the Issaquah district faced a separate incident in which students posed in a photo holding a racist sign that was shared on social media. In the Mercer Island School District, two students were photographed doing the Nazi salute.

Rita Green is education chair for the Washington State NAACP. She said having to deal with the Liberty High School video just after the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and before the Black Lives Matter at School week was disheartening.

“The number one concerning thing is that it happened at all,” Green said. “The second thing is that this person is still a cheerleader. She should not be allowed to be on the cheer squad. Cheerleaders represent the entire student body, and this cheerleader obviously does not.”

L. Michelle, a spokeswoman for the Issaquah School District, declined to say whether the girl is a cheerleader and whether she remains on the squad, citing student privacy laws. She said the district also cannot disclose what disciplinary actions have been taken but that it's incorrect to say the student was not disciplined.

“Our sincere hope and what we are working toward is to create a school culture where this kind of hate speech does not occur,” she said.

The district has taken a number of steps to improve school culture for students of color, including changing curriculum to include lessons on micro-aggressions and privilege, she said. The district also held listening sessions last year facilitated by Caprice Hollins, Psy.D., of Cultures Connecting to allow school board directors to hear about the experiences of students, parents and staff members of color.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.