Metro

Brookline students walk out to protest racial climate in wake of videos

After students of color complained they felt unsafe, Brookline High School officials launched series of forums and trainings over the past year hoping to root out racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic attitudes in their midst.

But a pair of videos last week — they showed young men laughing while incessantly hurling a racial epithet to describe black people — are forcing the school to again confront those issues.

Superintendent Andrew Bott and headmaster Anthony Meyer condemned the “vile, hate-filled videos” in a letter Wednesday that notified families of the recordings.

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And on Thursday, dozens of students protested against the racial climate at the school by walking out. Brookline police are also investigating the videos, which were posted online.

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“I honestly think we’re so numb to it now that we don’t even care if they like us. We just want the respect we deserve,’’ said Jada Finklea, 16, a junior in the African-American and Latino Scholars program.

The first video, circulated on social media last week, showed three young men laughing while using a racial epithet multiple times. At one point, one of them mentioned the school’s African-American and Latino Scholars program.

The other video, sent to the Globe, showed another young man using a similar racial epithet.

Heather Hamilton, a member of the town’s Select Board, said she has heard from Brookline residents who said they are disturbed by the recordings and want action from the school. She expressed confidence in the superintendent’s ability to address the matter. But she said she felt sad after reading that some students said they felt outraged by the videos, though not surprised by them.

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“That statement just breaks my heart,’’ she said.

Police detectives obtained copies of the videos Wednesday night after being alerted to them by reporters, and no decision had been made Thursday whether the videos are evidence of a crime, said Deputy Superintendent Michael Gropman.

Bott and Meyer wrote that high school administrators immediately began investigating the first video as soon as they were made aware of it. They disciplined one of the men, who is a current student. The other two no longer attend the school. Officials are investigating the second video.

“While it is hard to fathom the intent of such videos, their impact is clear and concerning. They degrade, dehumanize, and diminish our community,” Bott and Meyer wrote. “We want to be clear — these types of videos and behavior are unacceptable and have no place in our community.”

But several students who walked out of school said they were not satisfied because officials took a week to respond to the matter.

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“There’s a lot of stuff that goes unseen, and we can only remedy that with bringing attention to it and educating each other,’’ said Kaya Andrews, a 16-year-old junior. “In the letter that the superintendent sent out, it wasn’t mentioned that the white kids said the N-word, and that was a really big issue.”

On Thursday, students protested by skipping classes. Some of them, wrapped in sweaters and blankets, sat on the school’s front steps. A few held signs.

The protests — one at 9 a.m. and another at 2 p.m. — started with about 100 students but dwindled.

Jimmy Ricks, 17, a senior, said he was willing to do whatever it takes to see changes at Brookline High.

“We’re tired of hearing the same thing over and over again,” he said. “We’re hoping that this time it’s different, because if not, I’m going to be really disappointed.”

“If nothing happens, we’re not going to let it slide by this time,” he said.

Bott, who also stood with students outside the school, acknowledged the school’s slow response, calling it a fair criticism.

“I think that the team at the high school has acknowledged that,’’ he said in a phone interview later. “The principal of the high school acknowledged that at the rally this morning.”

The superintendent promised to deepen anti-racism work in the curriculum and offer deeper support to students targeted in the videos.

Last year, the school promised community discussions after racist and homophobic graffiti were discovered on two town-owned picnic tables near the high school. It implemented an anti-bias program from the Anti-Defamation League, which plans to begin training at all four of the town’s middle schools, league officials said.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

John Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Alyssa Meyers can be reached at alyssa.meyers@globe.com. Meghan Irons can be reached at Meghan.Irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeghanIrons.