LANCASTER — Community activists denounced death threats made against the teens depicted in a viral social media video where they used the N-word and dark face paint and said the incident should be used as a teachable moment.
The Snapchat video, which was also posted on Twitter, shows students said to be from Quartz Hill High School, painting a white male student’s face with dark makeup or face paint. One of the female students uses the N-word, which caused some of the other students to laugh, followed by another use of the N-word.
Death threats against the teens and their families followed after the video was posted on social media and garnered widespread attention. The 10-second clip amassed more than 345,000 views and nearly 5,000 retweets and 6,657 likes on Twitter.
“Everyone is shocked and outraged by the racist video we saw,” Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic Hope, said during a press conference held Thursday afternoon in front of the Antelope Valley Union High School District office. “It was shameful and there’s no excuse for it. But there’s also no excuse for any child, any high school student and their parents, to receive death threats. That’s unacceptable.”
Ali added: “Our coalition sees this as a teachable moment and that’s why it’s important for African American and Latino leaders to reach out to the families, those involved, let’s talk about this. Let’s learn from this and that way this doesn’t happen to anyone ever again. …At the end of the day we’re one community.”
Ali attended the press conference and notified the media at the request of Agents of Change founder Miguel Coronado.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, who did not attend the press conference, said in a telephone interview he was concerned about adults taking advantage of the situation.
“I’m just concerned that we had children, high school kids, that did something really bad,” Parris said, adding the students should be admonished or perhaps even punished. “I don’t think it’s indicative of our community or the high school. I think it’s stupid kids behaving badly.”
Parris added he is concerned about the students and did not want the situation to be made worse than it is.
AV Union High School District Board Vice President Victoria Ruffin also spoke at the press conference.
“The blackface issue here is huge and I am positive these students don’t fully understand why their behaviors are offensive. I don’t believe they understand it,” said Ruffin, who added she was there as a community member.
Ruffin also cited the recent noose incident at Summerwind Elementary School in the Palmdale School District, where four white teachers were pictured smiling and holding up a noose.
“How do we help? How do we try to address and solve these problems? We need to come together collaboratively as a community,” Ruffin said.
Ruffin said sociologist Pedro Noguera, a distinguished professor of education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences at UCLA, is willing to collaborate to address the problem. She suggested AV Union High School District Superintendent David Vierra and Palmdale School District Superintendent Raul Maldonado reach out to Noguera for assistance.
Ruffin also said she is also positioning an Antelope Valley Community Advocates Committee to work on bridging educational awareness to inspire, engage, and empower community members to get involved with social justice issues.
“I believe that our community is ready to come together and let those young people know that we love them,” said Bishop Henry Hearns, a former Lancaster mayor. “We do not hate them. We want them to know that we please, stay in the community, and let us wrap our arms around them and let them know that we really care.”
Hearns added the Snapchat video is ugly and hurtful.
“It really is ugly. It is really bad,” Hearns said. “That’s a bad thing, there’s no question about it. There’s no way to make that beautiful. The only thing that we can say is beautiful about it is that I don’t think that those kids knew what they were doing.”
Community activist Ansar “Stan” Muhammad said use of the N-word has become so common that adults need to do something to change the language.
“Why is it that the N-word is so commonly used in the hip-hop community?” Muhammad said. “Why is the N-word so commonly used in the society in general? So today, we’re in the Antelope Valley in 2019 and we’re addressing an issue that was here in the 1800s called the blackface.”
Muhammad added he would like to create a coalition to educate the community about blackface and what the N-word represents.
“I don’t believe these young people really know the history of what that’s all about,” Muhammad said.
Community organizer V. Jesse Smith, who is also the parent of a Quartz Hill High School student, said he used the incident as a teachable moment to have a conversation with his daughter about race and racism.
Smith suggested that no young person graduate from high school without taking a mandatory course in race, culture and white supremacy.
Quartz Hill High School student Angelie Zambrano, who is also a member of the Agents of Change student organization, said she is friends with one of the students in the video.
‘I asked her why and what went through their heads when they said what they said and they did what they did. She said, ‘To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know. It was a mistake and I’m really sorry about it,’ ” Zambrano said, adding her friend said they were putting a face mask on the boy in the video.
Zambrano added the incident is not just a problem with the students but with how they are being raised and what they are being taught.
“You have to think about the school system — they’re diluting black history and they’re saying one thing happened when really it didn’t,” Zambrano said. “I feel like rather than bashing these kids and calling them racist, we need to say what can we do better and how can we improve.”
Zambrano said her friend did not say anything in the video.
“She was in the wrong place at the wrong time and she genuinely felt remorse,” Zambrano said.
Quartz Hill High student Alyssa Delossantos said she was disgusted when she first saw the video.
“It’s gotten to the point where it’s so common that you don’t really think anything of it,” Delossantos said. “You are in class and you just hear it, like, right behind you because there’s kids saying it all the time. I think that’s the main issue is that we’re not really addressing it as an issue.”