Washburn High School Students Punished for Hanging Black Baby Doll from String

A picture of the baby hanging in the hallway. (Photo Source: Washburn High School via WCCO-TV)

Four students at an area Minneapolis, Minn., high school have been disciplined after they hung a black baby doll from a string in a school hallway on January 11 and posted pictures of it on social media.

But while the school is doing damage control, some students at the school are saying the administration and the media are overreacting and that the incident — taken as a racial taunt — was never intended as more than a stupid prank.

“I know the people that did it and I know they didn’t mean it like people have been taking it,” Henry LaMere, a student at Washburn High School, told WCCO-TV. “It was just an idiotic thing. They would have done it if it was a purple baby. They would have done it if it was a white baby or any color baby. They were just acting on a whim.”

Local reporter Esme Murphy chronicled the same reaction from students in a blog post: “Students I spoke to say the four students involved did not intend to make a racist threat or statement, that is was simply in their words ‘a dumb prank.’”

But not everyone is buying that.

“I see this as a form of racial bullying,” K.G. Wilson, a community activist, told the outlet.

Local resident Al Flowers: “If you see the pictures, that’s a big concern. We’re just concerned. It’s just about racial sensitivity.”

Parent Ralph Crowder: “That represents a lot of hate, brutality and violence. I think it’s been taken very lightly.”

And even Murphy says it doesn’t much matter what the intentions were, the fact is the act had racial undertones no matter what:

What students I spoke with did not seem to understand is the historical context of such an image — that hanging a doll or figure in effigy has been seen for decades as a threat, a warning of some kind of act to come.

There seemed to be no understanding among the students I spoke with that this type of image could be a source of fear and intimidation. Obviously, I did not speak to every student. But that lack of context, that lack of perspective on this nation’s not-too-distant, and distinctly ugly past is troubling.

While the school hasn’t revealed the full punishments doled out, Murphy says “one [of the] boys was expelled and at least two other students were suspended.” The students were caught in part after the stunt was captured on school security cameras.

The school released a statement late last week that made it clear how the issue was being taken:

Dear Washburn Community,

This week’s message addresses an incident that happened at our school on Friday, January 11. Near the end of the school day, a small group of students engaged in an insensitive activity that involved dangling a dark-skinned baby doll by its neck with a piece of string. Students recorded the incident and images were posted on social media sites. School security cameras also captured the events.

An image such as the one described causes feelings of anger and humiliation, and we intend to provide a safe space for productive conversations to take place. I was informed afterschool on Friday and took immediate action. We are committed to following the school district’s code of conduct in any instance of inappropriate behavior.

This is an extremely disturbing occurrence and not reflective of the Miller Pride that we promote. Such insensitive behavior is intolerable in our school and school district,both of which are full of diversity and rich in culture.

Due to the gravity of this incident, we are responding in several ways. Aside from following the school district’s code of conduct in any instance of inappropriate behavior, we will be creating opportunities for these students to take responsibility for their actions through restorative measures. We are also seeking opportunities for students to work with our community partners who provide support services so they have the resources they need to be successful.

Because references have been posted on social media sites and students are talking about the incident, it is imperative that our community receives this message and understands that we are aggressively responding. Parents can help their students be safe on social media by teaching them about appropriate behavior, empathy, and how to report abuse to the website administrators and trusted adults at school or elsewhere.

We will promote opendialogue between students and staff in order to learn from this unfortunate episode and create opportunities to talk about race and respect.

Thank you.

Carol Markham-Cousins

Principal, Washburn High School

But the local district was even more direct, calling it “an incident of racial intolerance”:

Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is deeply disturbed by an incident of racial intolerance that occurred last week at Washburn High School.

The incident involved a small group of students engaged in an insensitive activity that involved dangling a dark-skinned baby doll by its neck with a piece of string. Students recorded the incident and images were posted on social media sites. School security cameras also captured the events.

We took immediate action on Friday, January 11, to address the situation. Washburn is working with MPS staff from Emergency Management, Safety and Security; Student Support Services; and Equity and Diversity to address this issue.

We do not accept racial intolerance in our school district. We are following the school district’s code of conduct in addressing the inappropriate behavior. We are also seeking opportunities for these students to take responsibility for their actions through restorative measures. The four students were involved to varying degrees. Because of student privacy, we are unable to share any specific disciplinary actions that were taken.

Washburn will continue to work with community partners in conducting restorative dialogue circles. This model has shown success at Washburn in the past. We understand that this situation may cause feelings of anger and humiliation for some students. MPS is also providing support for students through school counselors, other staff members and community partners.

Now that the students have been punished, Washburn is hoping to put the incident behind it with a community meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

(H/T: Daily Mail)