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Racist Halloween display prompts backlash

Racist Halloween display prompts backlash

Rochester Public Schools said Thursday that it is “aware of and investigating” a racially-charged image circulating on social media allegedly involving students from John Marshall High School.

The photo, which first surfaced Wednesday night, shows two young men dressed up as members of the Ku Klux Klan — apparently for Halloween. They each have one hand raised in the air. Their other hands are holding onto a third individual wearing either a black mask or face paint.

The post, which was shared by students and parents throughout the district this morning, has been met with widespread condemnation. According to fellow students, at least two of the individuals attend John Marshall.

In a letter sent out to families at the school, the district said it will respond in an “appropriate manner” based on the results of its investigation.

“We are unable to provide further comment on this situation due to state and federal data privacy laws that protect student information,” a district spokesperson said Thursday morning. “However, it is important for our community to know that RPS strives to create a welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds and is committed to providing a learning environment that is free from discrimination.”

The district also said it has brought on additional staff at John Marshall today to help support students who may be affected by the situation.

“The social media post is not a reflection of what our district students and staff believes and feels,” the district said in the statement, which was also sent out to local media. “We will use this as an opportunity to talk, educate, and grow as a community as we work to become even stronger and more inclusive to all students.”

Already, members of the community have taken it upon themselves to notify the students’ employers of the incident. In a screenshot uploaded to Facebook, the food store Hy-Vee, where one of the individuals apparently works, responded to an inquiry with: “This behavior is not condoned by Hy-Vee and we will address this matter with this employee right away.”

The Army recruiting station in Rochester also released a statement Thursday saying the individuals allegedly involved will no longer be allowed to enlist.

“Because the questionable conduct of these three individuals is inconsistent with Army values, they will no longer continue the process to become U.S. Soldiers,” said Marlene Bland of the 3rd Recruiting Brigade. “The Army does not tolerate inappropriate behavior by anyone within our ranks, [including] recruits who have signed a contract to join in the future. It is important for everyone on our team to live and demonstrate the Army values every day.”

Local organizations respond

Thursday afternoon, a coalition of community groups issued a statement condemning “without qualification” the behavior of the individuals.

We assert that we cannot continue to be "shocked and saddened" by these types of incidents without recourse. There is no room in our community or in our shared future for racism, hatred, discrimination, or belligerent ignorance. We will act.

There is space now for each of us to step up and interrupt those things happening around us that perpetuate these divisive attitudes and behaviors.  To truly make our community a safe and welcoming place for everyone, we all have a responsibility to recognize and interrupt the words, actions, and attitudes around us that perpetuate white supremacy. We pledge to take ownership of the intolerances that keep us as a community from reaching our fullest, most inclusive potential. We will find allies and supports when we need them. We will lift, together, now.

The statement was signed by S.E. Social Justice Coalition, the Diversity Council, Rochester for Justice, CIDI, NAACP, UU Racial Justice Task Group, CURE, Southeast Minnesota Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO, Olmsted County Human Rights Commission, and Sierra Club North Star Chapter.

Note: Because the young men featured the photo may be minors, the Med City Beat has decided not to publish their names at this time.

Cover: Screenshot captured off social media

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