School, but not police, punish Lake Stevens student over ‘racist’ post

Police found the girl’s social-media post about raccoon hunting was not a thinly veiled threat, but it was in “poor taste.”

(Lake Stevens School District)

(Lake Stevens School District)

LAKE STEVENS — Police believe a Lake Stevens student’s social media post was legitimately about hunting raccoons, not a hate crime, though it was interpreted by some students and staff as a racist threat of violence.

Meanwhile, Lake Stevens School District Superintendent Ken Collins still condemned the post as “racist and hateful” in an email to staff, families and students.

In the post Feb. 25, an 18-year-old student was pictured holding a pellet gun with the caption “going (expletive) huntin,” according to police reports. She was also wearing a shirt reading, “Let’s Go Brandon,” which has become a euphemism for an expletive against President Joe Biden. A 16-year-old student took the photo, captioned and posted it. Both girls attend Lake Stevens High School.

Students who reported the post to the school district interpreted the student’s use of the shortening of “raccoon” in the post as an offensive slur for a Black person. According to the Jim Crow Museum, the slur “is one of the most insulting of all anti-black caricatures,” and a term born during slavery.

“As a student of color, this does not make me comfortable going to school with people who have such an injurious agenda,” one Lake Stevens student wrote to school administrators.

“This is not only direct hate speech towards a minority group using a racial slur, but a safety threat for our fellow Black students that attend the high school,” another wrote.

Lake Stevens Deputy Police Chief Jeff Young said “nothing in the post indicated it was racially motivated.” The investigation was handed back to the school district for adjudication.

“We live in the country and have issues with raccoons attacking our cats,” one of the students wrote in a statement to the school district. “We hunt them to protect our animals.”

The student who wrote the caption was placed on a 10-day suspension for a school “behavioral violation,” according to a letter to the poster’s parents.

“The post did create a substantial disruption for the school and caused fear and concern for students and community members,” the letter states. As a result, the student received consequences “under the category of Disruption” instead of “Safety Violation.”

Regardless of the post’s intent, “we have zero tolerance for this behavior and it is not representative of our school district,” district spokesperson Jayme Taylor told The Daily Herald on March 1.

“… I will not apologize for calling the post out as racist,” Superintendent Collins wrote to a Lake Stevens parent in a March 4 email, shared with The Herald. “The post was hate speech, regardless of the intent.”

The school district has been working with the Snohomish County chapter of the NAACP in response to the incident, Taylor told The Herald.

According to Young, the post “was in poor taste” but didn’t rise to the level of a hate crime. Holding a weapon is not a violation of the law.

“After reviewing the posts and information available to me at the time of this report,” Lake Stevens officer Jim Barnes wrote, police could not find probable cause that there was a direct threat against a person or group of people.

Police also noted that a lack of school discipline or criminal record suggests neither the student in the photo nor the student who posted the photo “have a history of discrimination or hateful speech toward any specific group of people.”

The mother of the student posing in the photo with the gun told The Herald that the students “had no clue and no knowledge” the word was a slur.

The mother said she’s personally aware of the meaning, but “because of my upbringing, and I guess, where we live, I may not have thought about it at the time.”

“If she knew what she was saying, she just wouldn’t have said it,” the poster’s mother said.

Shortly after the photo was posted, a student of color reached out to the poster, pointing out that the word used in the photo could be interpreted as a slur, the poster’s mother said.

The student later posted “what appeared to be an apology for how her post was interpreted,” according to the police report.

“just posting this because what i posted on my private story was not meant to be the way you guys thought it was and i’m sorry to everyone,” a screenshot attached to the police report states. “if you want to talk to me about it please text me so i can explain.”

Last year, a Missouri school principal similarly apologized for the “hurt and offense” teachers’ use of the slur in a game of “human Scrabble” may have caused their community. One parent said they were speechless a slur like that could be used by educators, a local news station reported.

Some Lake Stevens parents say their kids hear racial slurs “daily” in Lake Stevens schools. In a private Facebook group, one mother wrote kids “are becoming desensitized to it because it is so prevalent.”

“I along with most people see this as further evidence of a lack of understanding of how microaggressions, micro-assaults and in this case, hate speech are deeply embedded in our community,” Collins wrote in a March 1 email to a Lake Stevens parent, shared with The Herald. “I am not ok with our students and families living in fear because someone posted a tone-deaf subject at the expense of traditionally marginalized students.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; isabella.breda@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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