[Editor’s Note: The following story contains graphic language and images that are disturbing.]
The Berkeley High School community is reeling after a racist message threatening violence against African Americans was found on a library computer Wednesday afternoon.
At 10:24 p.m., school Principal Sam Pasarow sent an email to the BHS community about the incident.
He wrote: “Today in the library, at approximately 12:30 PM, a hateful and racist message was discovered on one of the library computers, containing threatening language toward African Americans. The administration is looking into who posted this message and I urge students, staff, parents and guardians to please contact the school at 510-644-6121 if you have any information about this matter.”
Pasarow described the message as “a hate crime” and said it “will not stand in our community. I assure you that we are giving this investigation the utmost attention, as well as involving the Berkeley Police Department.”
According to one student, someone hacked into a computer in the school library “and changed the homepage to reflect a racist and offensive viewpoint. The text literally read ‘Fuck all the niggers in the world’ where it previously read ‘BHS Library.’”
Beneath that, it continued: “KKK forever public lynching December 9th 2015.”
On the left side of the screen, it read “I hung a nigger by his neck in my back yard.”
The student continued, “The text is obviously offensive, but certainly not the first instance of racial violence at Berkeley high, even in the past year. Last year … a noose was found on campus, and it took a number of days for administration to respond.”
In June, Berkeley High administrators recalled the school yearbook after someone slipped a racist message into the Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS) entry. Text published in the yearbook described AMPS as, “a small learning community focus [sic] on …making our future … trash collators [sic].”
Six students released a statement about the yearbook message that said the derogatory comment showed there is continued bias against the small schools in BHS. The AMPS program, geared toward students interested in health, law, education, counseling or social services, according to its webpage, is comprised of overwhelmingly black and Hispanic students.
The Berkeley High School Black Student Union published a message about the library post on Twitter just before 10 p.m. Wednesday: “This happened at our school! When will we as Black Students feel safe?”
Observed another student, also on Twitter, “to think that we actually kinda built a community on Friday but this just ruined everything.” (Last Friday, the school celebrated “UniTeam Day,” formerly known as Rally Day, in a positive expression of school pride.)
Said another student who learned of the library post through a teacher, “As an African American student I do not feel safe.… I believe that we should take action and make this known that there are crazy people in this world. This is a threat and someone should pay the consequence. So all I’m trying to do is educate people.”
The Berkeley High School Black Student Union released a statement about Wednesday’s message, which was published by the Afrikan Black Coalition: “This is an act of blatant terrorism towards the Black students and staff members at Berkeley High, and though the BSU is disappointed that this happened, but we are not surprised. The image we have attached has already been circulated amongst students on Twitter and it will no doubt continue to spread.”
The group continued, “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 the past acts of terror committed against the Black student body have been ignored such as the racist statement written into last year’s yearbook and the noose that was found on campus. We will not allow this to be trivialized like these other horrific instances.”
Pasarow said in his email that Berkeley High is “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, as well as the damaging effects on our entire community. Even as we continue our investigation we recognize the need to address the harm that this has caused, and to that end we will be spending time planning as a staff about how to support and care for our students.”
Berkeley Unified School District spokesman Mark Coplan said Pasarow’s message will be “repeated as a phone blast first thing in the morning.” (Update, Nov. 5, 8:40 a.m.: the phone message in which Pasarow read out the text of the eblast went out at 8 a.m.)
Update, Nov. 5, 5:10 p.m. Thursday afternoon, school officials announced they had identified the student responsible for the hate crime after hundreds of Berkeley High students walked out of class and marched to UC Berkeley to raise awareness about the incident.
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