Berkeley High students fight racist attacks: Navigating the shoals of increasing racial profiling

by Malaika H Kambon

This is the house hustle made

born blessings due

101 in the shade

rough rider striding through life

behind the veil imperial no fade

the light in the house hustle made

Dr. Ayodele Nzinga chooses this mural-covered house to illustrate her poem.
Dr. Ayodele Nzinga chooses this mural-covered house to illustrate her poem.

instructed by the bones

bottom of the ocean

on the path constant forward motion

attitude dedication and devotion

welcome to the house hustle made

prosperity flowing

shine showing

I know what I know

get out the way still a long way to go

in the house hustle made

no ducking no shucking no running

bullet proof so don’t come gunning

standing on top knowing I just begun

the light in the house hustle made

The indisputable Queen of Spades

unbreakable what I needed I made

diamond grind cut like an impeccable blade

turning lemons into blackberry lemonade

This house is hustle made. – Dr. Ayodele Nzinga

Berkeley High students rallied on the UC Berkeley campus Thursday, Nov. 5, in support of racial justice after a threat to lynch Black lives appeared on a BHS library computer. – Photo: Lance Knobel, Berkeleyside
Berkeley High students rallied on the UC Berkeley campus Thursday, Nov. 5, in support of racial justice after a threat to lynch Black lives appeared on a BHS library computer. – Photo: Lance Knobel, Berkeleyside

On Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, 2,000 of the 3,000 students at Berkeley High School marched from their school to the steps of Berkeley City Hall and from there to the University of California at Berkeley.

They did this because the Afrikan students at the school had been targeted, racially profiled and threatened with death by lynching the day before by a still as yet unnamed person and/or persons by the simple expedient of hacking into the library (and by extension) BHS computer system and leaving the following message on the school library page – on multiple computers:

This message was discovered Wednesday, Nov. 4, on a library computer at Berkeley High School.
This message was discovered Wednesday, Nov. 4, on a library computer at Berkeley High School. Click to enlarge.

At the bottom of the snapshot of the page, the Black Student Union asks a very pertinent question: “This happened at our school. When will we as Black students feel safe?”

There was a rally on the BHS campus on Thursday in response to the death threats found on Wednesday. After the rally, most of the school’s 3,000 students marched to call attention to the vicious crime and the atmosphere of hate that Afrikan students have endured at the school for over a year.

They had asked similar questions in the previous school year about two attacks, one on Oct. 1, 2014, and the next on June 4, 2015. A noose was found hanging in a tree on campus on Oct. 1, 2014. No one purportedly saw the noose placed there, and the administration did not report the hate crime to the campus for eight days. Though no video was made of the incident – no one saw it happening? – a photograph was obtained.

The second attack was subtle and more insidious. On June 4, 2015, the Berkeley High School Black Student Union released a statement after the school yearbook had to be recalled because persons unknown had maliciously replaced a page describing Berkeley High’s Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS) “small school” as “a small learning community focus [sic] on medicine, making our future doctors, dentists, nurses, physicians, fire chiefs and trash collators [sic].”

This noose on the Berkeley High School campus was photographed by an unknown person on Oct. 1, 2014, but not reported by the administration to the students for eight days.
This noose on the Berkeley High School campus was photographed by an unknown person on Oct. 1, 2014, but not reported by the administration to the students for eight days.

AMPS students are predominantly Afrikan and Latino.

The Berkeley High School Black Student Union statement after the yearbook incident read as follows:

“Berkeley High School Black Student Union Statement – Yearbook Incident, June 3, 2015

“Transparency and accountability are the biggest problems administration of Berkeley High School is facing. On June 2nd, yearbooks for this year, 2014-2015, were distributed out towards the Berkeley High community. Within Berkeley High, there are multiple small learning communities. One such community, Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS), focuses on job training in the medicine field. Within this community, 86% of the students are of color (Wasc Report 2015). There is a current stereotype among Berkeley High students that AMPS students are ‘lazy’ or ‘slackers.’

“At this time, it is unclear who edited the AMPS Yearbook page. The yearbook page describes the small learning community at Berkeley High as future ‘trash collators’ (sic). A photo of the page is attached. The administration via the PA system requested that all students return their yearbooks. Unfortunately, as usual, the administration did not tell the students why they should turn in their yearbooks. This was unsatisfactory, but not surprising to many of the students within Berkeley High School.

“In a prior matter, a noose was found on campus on October 1st 2014 and students weren’t informed of the event until eight days later.

“There has been a pattern of failed communication between the administration and the students at Berkeley High School in the past. Events such as the Berkeley High yearbook incident, discovery of the noose on campus, and other like events have triggered a tension among the Berkeley High community. The climate at Berkeley is currently hostile.”

This is the page from the BHS 2015 yearbook that triggered a recall. – Photo: Twitter @berkeleyBSU
This is the page from the BHS 2015 yearbook that triggered a recall. – Photo: Twitter @berkeleyBSU

Compare and contrast the statement above with the statement posted by the Berkeley High School BSU about the racist threats discovered on Nov. 4, 2015, just six months later; it invites response to berkeleyhighschoolbsu@gmail.com:

For Immediate Release: Racist Breach of Berkeley High School Library Webpage

“Tonight the BSU was made aware of a hateful message that was posted on the Berkeley High website. The words ‘Fuck all the niggers in the world,’ ‘KKK forever public lynching Decmber 9th 2015,” and “I hung a n*gger by his neck in my backyard’ were left on the library homepage. All of the students have access to this page and it is clear the author intended for it to be spread. The attached image shows what was posted on the library website. The perpetrator sympathizes with the racist cause of the KKK and makes a clear threat to lynch Black students this December. The terrorists call for the death of all Black people in the message.

“This is an act of blatant terrorism towards the Black students and staff members at Berkeley High, and though the BSU is disappointed that this happened, but we are not surprised. The image we have attached has already been circulated amongst students on Twitter and it will no doubt continue to spread.

“We are disgusted by this act of terror and demand it be investigated as such. The safety of Black students has been explicitly threatened, and we as the Black Student Union demand that this is addressed immediately by the Berkeley High administration and Berkeley Police Department. In the past, acts of terror committed against the Black student body have been ignored, such as the racist statement written into last year’s yearbook and the noose that was found on campus. We will not allow this to be trivialized like these other horrific instances.

“In Struggle,

“The Black Student Union at Berkeley High School

Berkeley High students march from their school to the UC Berkeley campus on Nov. 5, changing “No justice, no peace!” – Photo: Lucy Rosenthal
Berkeley High students march from their school to the UC Berkeley campus on Nov. 5, changing “No justice, no peace!” – Photo: Lucy Rosenthal

The students very clearly recognize that they are under attack and are being targeted by deliberate acts of terrorism and violence. The question is, though, why are these acts of violence and terrorism being allowed – and in some instances being perpetrated – by school administrations and administrators across the U.S.?

Last week in South Carolina a young Afrikan female child suffered multiple injuries when she was cuffed and arrested after being grabbed by the neck, thrown backwards in her desk and then thrown out of the desk across the room by a 300-pound white male, steroid bloated cop.

Was this done entirely because she wouldn’t put away her cell phone? This reporter doesn’t think so.

This week, a central Texas school had to be forced to apologize for racially stereotyping and profiling straight A seventh grade student Tiara Brown after a teacher decided to try to clown her in front of the entire class by telling her to write a poem about her “weave.” Tiara is one of only two children of color in the class, and she doesn’t have a “weave”; she has long, beautifully braided hair.

Tiara’s grandfather, Mr. Carlton Stimpson, whose post about the incident on Facebook included a photo and received over 78,000 shares, shows what Tiara wrote in response to the teacher’s blatant attack:

“Racial profiling is alive and well.

“This happened to my grandbaby just yesterday @ her school.

A teacher tried to humiliate student Tiara Brown, who responded with a powerful poem. She poses with her grandfather, Carlton Stimpson, who alerted his Facebook friends.
A teacher tried to humiliate student Tiara Brown, who responded with a powerful poem. She poses with her grandfather, Carlton Stimpson, who alerted his Facebook friends.

“Teacher instructs the children to write a poem. My Gbaby who is one of only two kids of color in the class. The teacher strolls over to her desk and says,” Tiara, you can write a poem about your weave”. Immediately all the children laughed out of their seats while my Gbaby dropped her head in shame. One of the non-color girls stated to the teacher, “Don’t you think that was improper”, the teacher without a thought said “No”.

“The other girl told my Gbaby just to hide.

“Tiara dropped her head hurting and embarrassed but did exactly what the teacher told her to do. She wrote this poem.

Will I Ever Get Away

I tried to run away

I tried to hide

All that was happening

Ate me up inside

I ran away to a place

For a while I was safe

Until it happened

The spotlight was on me!

It was embarrassing

I wanted to cry

I wanted to go

To another place and hide

But now I was stuck

My invisibility out of luck

So I stayed and wondered

Will I ever get away,

Or will I stay here in this place?

“Now, this was written by a little 7th grader while she was hurting. If she would have responded the way the teacher expected, they probably would have had the police dragged her by her beautiful hair, slam her and kick her out of class. But she responded with integrity and class. I ask that ya’ll pray for my wife and her mother who are going up to that school to MAKE THIS RIGHT. I can’t go up there because I’m from a different era and may respond in an unprofessional manner.

“I’m EXTREMELY PROUD of how my Gbaby responded and she epitomized how our children should fight Racial Profiling in School. Do what the teacher says and allow your parents to do the rest.

“Tiara has learned at an early age our family motto: ‘DEFEAT IGNORANCE WITH INTELLIGENCE’.

“I need 1000 like to SHOW MY GRANDBABY SOME LOVE FOR HER ACTIONS/CRISIS MANAGEMENT.”

The Nov. 5 rally drew the majority of Berkeley High School student body. – Photo: Lance Knobel, Berkeleyside
The Nov. 5 rally drew the majority of Berkeley High School student body. – Photo: Lance Knobel, Berkeleyside

According to the Channel 10 news report, all is forgiven, the teacher has apologized, and it is all being chalked up as a “learning experience.” Those of us who live in the real world should feel free to doubt that very seriously.

In light of the recent events in Berkeley, a city with an alleged history of love, flower children and liberalism, the city is in actuality the home of those who target Afrikan high school students and Afrikan people globally with hatred and murder by lynching – with impunity.

Apparently, the noose discovered hanging from a tree wasn’t enough. The hatred expressed in this year’s school yearbook wasn’t enough. Whomever is perpetrating these crimes has just upped the stakes, escalating the odds that it will take an actual body on the ground before the administration of BHS and by extension the governmental bodies in Berkeley take these threats and their escalation seriously.

Lynching is a death penalty that has been specifically directed at Afrikan people in the U.S. since its inception. It escalated in the 1880s as part of the U.S. government’s attempt to restore white supremacy in the post-Reconstruction South.

Records of lynching in the U.S. both prior to the 1880s and since show a pattern of state sanctioned terrorism against Afrikan people – young, old, male, female, children, wealthy, impoverished, outspoken, free and/or enslaved.

In all records, what is first and foremost is just what the Berkeley High School BSU has pinpointed in both of its statements this year about what is happening to them: the fact that those in authority not only turn a deaf eye and blind ear but they seemingly do so with an impunity that encourages the violence and opens the door for its escalation and for the acts of violence to occur more frequently.

The Black Student Union’s resistance to a series of racist threats inspired many other students to join them for the Nov. 5 rally at Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus. – Photo: Eric Panzer
The Black Student Union’s resistance to a series of racist threats inspired many other students to join them for the Nov. 5 rally at Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus. – Photo: Eric Panzer

To be sure that no others have been living in a cave and have no idea of what to do about threats of lynching, as the Berkeley High principal claimed, recall James Allen’s book, “Without Sanctuary.”

Without Sanctuary is a photo document of proof, an unearthing of crimes, of collective mass murder, of mass memory graves excavated from the American conscience. Part postal cards, common as dirt, souvenirs skin-thin and fresh-tatooed proud, the trade cards of those assisting at ritual racial killings and others acts of mad citizenry. The communities’ best citizens (are) lurking just outside the frame …. Destined to decay, these few survivors of an original photo population of many thousands turn the living to pillars of salt,” writes Allen.

Be sure and check out this link for more information about this very hard-hitting book, because this is the kind of violence that is threatening the Afrikan students at Berkeley High School.

Already, there are discrepancies between the official reports and the students’ accounts. According to one BSU member, all of the computer screens in the library were involved. News accounts say only one screen was involved. News accounts say the system wasn’t hacked; however, the principal’s late night email to BSU members says that the system was hacked.

BHS Principal Sam Pasarow’s lack of decisive action and/or empathy and his tardiness in informing the Afrikan community at the school is coming under close scrutiny. Afrikan people within the community are highlighting what the BHS Black Student Union is saying about the administration’s consistent lack of transparency and direct action.

No one has said who found the messages, when they were found – except to say late afternoon – and to whom in the administration and/or police department the information was first reported. The perpetrator has not been named, except to say that it is alleged to be a student who is believed to be “acting alone.”

At Berkeley High School, a racist death threat, “KKK forever! Public lynching December 9th 2015,” was found on a library computer on Nov. 4. 2015. – Photo: Nancy Rubin
At Berkeley High School, a racist death threat, “KKK forever! Public lynching December 9th 2015,” was found on a library computer on Nov. 4. 2015. – Photo: Nancy Rubin

Why did the principal wait until nearly midnight of the same day to notify Afrikan students that their lives had been threatened en masse – earlier in the day? What did the principal do for all of those hours? When were the parents of Afrikan students notified?

Why are the perpetrator or perpetrators being protected? What plans have been discussed – if any – with parents, businesses surrounding the school and administrations of other schools to protect Afrikan students from a further escalation of white supremacist terrorism and violence?

The perpetrator(s) of this hate crime speak casually of having committed and of planning to commit acts of lynching – both past and future. What investigations are ongoing to substantiate past actions and safeguard against future acts?

This country seems to be returning to an era when Afrikan lives were taken much more frequently and openly under the color of law. In this incarceration nation, where Afrikan men are openly killed, Afrikan women and children are quietly murdered out of site, out of mind, where prison and military industrial complexes command more money than schools, where labor pays less even though the U.S. was built upon enslaved Afrikan labor, health care doesn’t exist, elders are dishonored and every 28 hours or less an Afrikan life is taken. What?

Now is it going to become illegal – again – for Afrikans to read and write, attacking our children with impunity in school? Why? To create divisions, disunity and an inability for Afrikan people to organize, build, rebuild and grow, to egregiously refuse to recognize our humanity and our right to self-determination and liberation.

To deny us our house, hustle made, to deny our ancestors, upon whose shoulders we stand, by specifically threatening our children, our future.

This must not be allowed to continue.

Malaika H Kambon is a freelance, multi-award winning photojournalist and owner of People’s Eye Photography. She is also an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) state and national champion in Tae Kwon Do from 2007-2012. She can be reached at kambonrb@pacbell.net.