Newton police said they are investigating three incidents in February that involved racial slurs, including the N-word written in tape on a sidewalk and spoken in a pair of video recordings featuring Newton North High School students.
Since the first incident came to light early in February, students have rallied to oppose hate speech, the city’s schools are stepping up efforts to combat discrimination, and police are seeking the public’s help in their investigation.
“Whether it’s in a school, on a sidewalk, or anywhere where it’s out in public view, incidents like these are cancerous and they do metastasize,” said Lieutenant Bruce Apotheker, a Newton police spokesman. “Just because someone wasn’t specifically targeted, it still targets the whole community.”
The incidents being investigated began with a Snapchat video that was reported to parents in a Feb. 3 e-mail from Newton North’s principal, Henry J. Turner. After that video surfaced, Turner said he met with members of the school’s Black community about the incident.
“I heard hurt and anger that classmates would use this word. They said they have heard this word in the hallway,” Turner said. “When we talked to them, they wanted our community to know it wasn’t allowed, it wouldn’t be tolerated.”
The video included a boy from Newton North and a girl from another community, said Apotheker, the police spokesman. The girl in the video, who has been identified by police, was recorded as saying the N-word, he said.
On Feb. 16, another instance of the N-word — this time, written with tape on the sidewalk along Albemarle Road near Watertown Street — was reported to police at 7:30 p.m., Apotheker said.
And on Monday, Feb. 24, police learned about another Snapchat video that included use of the racial slur, Apotheker said. Three girls appeared in that video, including a pair of Newton North students.
Police are working to determine whether one of the girls used the N-word, or if it was part of a song that was also recorded in the video, Apotheker said.
In a statement, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller blasted the recent spate of hate speech.
“This is not who we are as a community. Newton stands united against racial discrimination and all forms of hate,” Fuller said. “All residents should feel safe here. We reaffirm our core principles of respect, diversity, and acceptance.”
Turner, the Newton North principal, said use of the N-word will not be tolerated at the school.
At Newton North, teachers and staff have been working with students to create an inclusive and respectful community, according to Turner. That includes discussions in classes, work with the school department’s Office of Human Rights, and the local group Families Organizing for Racial Justice.
Newton North’s Black Leadership Advisory Council, a student group, also led a rally on Feb. 14 in response to the racist incidents, he said.
Turner, who is Black, said he shared the students’ feelings about the hate speech.
“My message to them: I’m hurt by it as well. As a person of color, I am hurt by it. I’m hurt that our students are hurt.” Turner said. “And I am proud of them for responding in this way.”
Leyla Davis, 17, who serves as president of the Black Leadership Advisory Council, said students hear more and more racial slurs as the days go by.
In an e-mail to the Globe, the Newton North senior said she thinks people are emboldened when other people use hateful language. She said slurs have shown up written in bathrooms, posted on social media and in text messages, and are sometimes spoken at parties.
“I feel as though one incident just encourages another to arise,” Davis said.
Davis said she believes the school is trying its best to combat the racist incidents; but that students of color feel very uncomfortable.
“I think that students of color feel as though their voices aren’t being heard,” she said. “For the Black students at North it feels as though the administration is not doing much to reach out to the students of color that are greatly affected by these incidents, and many students have felt as thought their pain isn’t being acknowledged.”
In the past, grappling with incidents involving hate speech and bias has been difficult in Newton.
In 2016, officials said incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti — including a swastika written in snow — at the F. A. Day Middle School were not reported to authorities by the school’s then-principal.
More anti-Semitic graffiti was found at Newton North that spring, and students from another school yelled anti-Jewish chants at Newton North fans during a basketball game.
The Anti-Defamation League called on Newton officials to investigate the causes of the incidents, and former mayor Setti Warren hired a civil rights attorney to train school staff and administrators on how to deal with issues like discrimination and hate speech.
Warren, who was Newton’s first Black mayor, told the Globe at the time: “We felt very strongly in the city and the district that we wanted to re-emphasize our community values moving forward, welcoming people from all communities and backgrounds."
Ruth Goldman, the chairwoman of the city’s School Committee, said she would like her board to consider releasing an open letter to the city about the recent hate speech, and the schools’ work in responding to the incidents.
“We are beginning to understand that we need to talk to students about the history of these words, and why they are so hurtful,” Goldman said. “We need to step it up. We’re in a national moment where it’s OK to say things like this.”
Elisa Rodriguez, the coordinator for Families Organizing for Racial Justice, praised Turner for being transparent and working with the community, and said the city’s schools were taking these issues seriously.
The schools need more support to provide specialized training for students, teachers, and staff on how to combat discrimination — including stamping out hate speech, she said.
“The fact that a 16-year-old doesn’t know better goes to show how much work we have to do,” Rodriguez said.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.