NAACP head calls for swift punishment for ‘hate crime’

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Exterior, Shelton Intermediate School, in Shelton, Conn. Aug. 9, 2016.

Exterior, Shelton Intermediate School, in Shelton, Conn. Aug. 9, 2016.

The photo on Snapchat of a white student in blackface — which was circulated among students in the district — is a hate crime and punishment must be “swift and meaningful,” head of the Valley NAACP chapter stated Thursday.

Greg Johnson, Sr., president of the NAACP Ansonia branch, said that youth can often make mistakes, but “when those mistakes promote hate, disrespect and the degradation of people based on race, the consequences must be swift and meaningful.

“This must be a teachable moment,” said Johnson. “Hate and disrespect has no place here and will not be tolerated. The people involved in this incident are young, yes, but if there is no significant consequence for this behavior, the behavior can become worse as these people become older. I don’t believe any of us want that.”

School Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet said the district is investigating the circumstances surrounding this photo, which showed a white student wearing a black substance on her face, appearing to be some kind of face paint or beauty mask.

In the photo she is seen sticking out her tongue and holding up both middle fingers. Reports indicate the photo was captioned “New (racial slur) in town.”

“This behavior falls under the definition of a hate crime based on recent changes in the law, but neither the police, prosecutors or courts have taken the legislation seriously,” said Johnson. “The Hate Crime Commissioner was never established and they won't arrest and prosecute hate crime offenders because they look like the kid above — young whites.

“This is our opportunity to send a loud and clear message that hate of any type is unacceptable and will be punished up to and including expulsion,” added Johnson.

Clouet said several students claimed they were purposely tagged in the post, and that some of those tagged were Shelton Intermediate School students. Principal Dina Marks spoke to those students Tuesday, Sept. 10.

“We will be taking this situation very seriously,” Clouet said. “These are complex issues, and before we react, we need to talk to ... those who created the photo and all those who were impacted by the photo.”

Clouet said he spoke with NAACP representatives, who are monitoring the district’s response to the matter.

Marks also sent a letter to parents Tuesday, in which she called the photo “troubling.” She said in the letter that there would be a full investigation.

“We will continue in the following weeks to educate our students that such behavior has far-reaching implications for themselves and can have a devastating impact on the targeted group and our community as a whole,” Marks said.

“As a school community, we denounce this behavior,” added Marks. “Shelton Intermediate School stands for respect and inclusion. We value the diversity of our student body and believe in respect and kindness towards all. This unfortunate incident does not reflect our school values.”