Community reeling from racial incidents
The crowd that packed the auditorium at Strath Haven High School in Delaware County Wednesday night heard calls for healing and unity from local officials in the wake of two ugly racial incidents in their community.
What they didn’t get was much in the way of answers.
Residents were rightly outraged on learning of the two incidents, in which a picture was widely distributed among young people on social media showing two people wearing white hoods, and racist epithets in a letter distributed to several homes in the school district.
The acts were quickly condemned by school officials.
Strath Haven High students, outraged at the acts apparently committed by some of their peers, staged a walkout.
A long list of local clergy signed off on a letter expressing solidarity with those who were targeted by the racist letter, stressing that they strive to create a community where all are welcome. They also noted their belief in the power of forgiveness, along with redemption and reconciliation.
The NAACP met with school officials and vowed to join efforts to develop healing strategies to address the “deep concerns rising in the community.”
All of that was a few weeks ago.
The standing-room-only crowd that gathered Wednesday night was looking for answers and actions, not only to address what happened, but to be reinsured that steps are being taken to prevent it from happening again.
That’s not what they got. Instead the meeting was largely devoted to an update on the investigation, at first handled by the school district and police, which is now in the hands of the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office.
“Our community has been shaken and has reacted with a range of emotions,” school Superintendent Lisa Palmer told the crowd. “Our is a community that prides itself on being respectful and inclusive. These incidents were in direct conflict with those values.”
But it was clear that many of the more than 300 people packed into the auditorium were looking for more than that.
They were looking for answers in terms of who was responsible for the acts – widely believed to be the work of a small group of high school girls – any punishment that has been meted out, and what will be done going forward.
Those in attendance were not allowed to speak or ask questions at the forum. Instead the district instructed those present to write down their questions and officials would attempt to post answers at a later time on the district website.
“Based on the volatility that I believe exists in our community at this time, and the anger and the upset that I have seen on social media and in emails, I did not think an open community conversation would be productive at this moment,” Palmer said.
Nether Providence Police Chief David Splain did offer one nugget of new information. The chief indicated that the photo of the two people in white hoods was apparently taken at Halloween and was not done at the same time of the racist letters, which were delivered to several homes Dec. 15.
Strath Haven Principal Kristopher Brown offered a realistic outlook to those gathered.
“No matter the outcome of the investigation, it’s our responsibility to do the work to improve racial relations in our school community, to focus on school climate, to facilitate conversations about these events,” Brown said.
And it’s clear the community has work to do in that area.
It should be noted that not everyone who was the target of the letters is all that worked up about it. One resident who received a letter believes the incident is being blown out of proportion.
Racism and these kinds of ugly acts know no boundaries, they do not adhere to any demographic or ethnic group, and they are virulent and incredibly hard to stamp out.
They can occur anywhere, including the enlightened community of WallingfordSwarthmore.
The strong showing by the community reinforces what so many yard signs declare: Hate has no home here.
The country has made great strides in race relations. But there is still work to do.
Just ask any of the 300 people who showed up this week at Strath Haven High.