Com­mu­nity reel­ing from racial in­ci­dents

The Southern Berks News - - OPINION - Ed­i­to­rial

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 Walling ford Swarth­more.

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.

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