North Students Protest Racial Inequities; West Security Prevents Similar Protest

North Students Protest Racial Inequities; West Security Prevents Similar Protest

By Grace Geraghty

Editor’s Note: Video contains some crude language.

Following the district-wide Stand Against Racism event at Niles West and Niles North on Friday, April 28, students banded together later in the day at Niles North to protest the inequity of punishments following an offensive Snapchat posted by a student.

The Niles North student, a white male, allegedly posted a Snapchat apparently depicting a gun, along with the caption, “If you’re a ni**er I pull the trigger.” As punishment, he allegedly faced one day of out-of-school suspension.

However, district officials say the student’s punishment has been misreported.

“Earlier this week, Niles North was notified that a student posted a racist comment with a picture of a BB gun on Snapchat. The school immediately notified the Skokie Police Department, which investigated the matter and determined that the post did not pose a direct threat to the school,” director of communications Jim Szczepaniak said in a statement released over email. “It has been inaccurately reported that District 219 disciplined the student with a one-day suspension. District 219 continues to conduct an investigation to determine what specific action is warranted.”

In response to what many students perceived as inequitable punishment for the perpetrator, an entirely student-organized walk-out was arranged for sixth period.

“This school preaches diversity; this school preaches acceptance,” student organizer and junior Jade Hansen said at the event, according to videos posted on social media. “Yet, they let a student  who threatened to kill black students back into this school, and only suspended him for a day, while there are students of color who get expelled for non-violent offenses.”

One senior protestor, who preferred not to be named, said, “it started off being a protest against the unjust punishment of a student threatening to harm people of color.”

The protesters made sure to stress that they were assembling peacefully to promote unity and a stop to inequitable treatment. Students used the phrase “We are one.”

“This is peaceful. This is a peaceful way to show that we’re connected and together as a school community. So stay peaceful, and stay protesting,” Hansen told fellow student protestors.

According to the hand-written statement organizers shared with Niles West News, the “students took it upon themselves to organize together peacefully to protest against the inequity in [their] school.”

“We came together and unified to show that justice will prevail, to show that together we can organize against inequitable situations, that we the students have the power to create change,” the statement said. “We the students are the future, and that future is to create a more positive, acceptable, equitable environment within the Niles North community.”

Fellow organizer and senior Juliana Tichota said she was incredibly proud of the unity of the Niles North community.

“If there is anything else I would add, it’s that I am proud of the efforts of the student body and proud to be a member of such a powerful and passionate group,” she said. “It is time for us to stop excusing racism in our community and to show that no matter what we look like or identify with, it is our job to make a change.”

Students hope that this protest spurs a reaction and change in policy from the administration, as well as a greater emphasis on the reality of injustice in our communities.

“I am proud of our school for coming together to protest the leniency of the punishment for a violent threat against black people in our community, but I hope the reaction doesn’t end there,” senior David Montes said. “I hope the walkout sparks conversations about injustice in our school and the rest of the world. I hope Niles North makes more of an effort to educate students about why diversity is important and about how injustice is institutionalized in our country rather than just making the broad statements [like] ‘our diversity it good’ and ‘injustice is bad.'”

Other students who helped organize and lead the event at Niles North include senior Jayson Sawyer, senior Joey Ardelean, senior Shani Freeman, junior Eli Gaytan, senior Lily Shearer, and junior Myles Valrie. Niles North students were not punished for participating in the protest and returned to class following sixth period. Estimates of how many students participated in the protest ranged  200 to 600 students.

Meanwhile, students at Niles West attempted to organize a protest via social media during eighth period in solidarity with Niles North after they learned of the events through social media. However, school security guards and deans blocked all entrances out of school in order to prevent students from organizing a walk-out. At one point, adults were chasing students around the schools, running and yelling after them, effectively preventing them from organizing any form of protest.

The refusal by the Niles West administration to allow students to organize upset many of the would-be protestors.

“We heard what was happening at North and we thought it was kind of b.s. and not fair. It’s sick that that’s still happening, and that it’s not a bigger deal. That should be on the news everywhere, but nothing happened. We’re trying to stir something up and make a difference,” freshman Hope Barkov said.

Junior Ema Hadzimutatovic agrees.

“I’m very upset [about not being able to protest]. That’s baloney. They’re taking away our right to free speech [and] to peacefully assemble,” she said.

However, Niles West administration said the event has been overplayed.

“There was a small group (about 20) students that wandered around the building for about 15 minutes. When they opened the front door, our School Resource Officer was standing there,” assistant principal Mark Rigby said. “They turned around and dispersed and went to class. There literally was no conversation. No words were spoken that I heard. It wasn’t a protest at West. It was a handful of students walking in the hallways who went to class when confronted.”

Additionally, the fire alarm was triggered at the end of the school day Friday. According to Rigby, the fire alarm was tripped in a boys’ restroom; administration is still investigating.

As a result of the Friday’s events, Niles North student organizers hope the district puts a greater emphasis on enforcing their policy of equity.

“I feel the biggest issue with the relationship between administration and the student body is not only the lack of communication but also the lack of trust when communication is needed,” Hansen said. “I believe there also needs to be an establishment of value toward students of color’s education; such as encouraging them to participate in higher level classes and providing support systems to those who feel disenfranchised; putting more emphasis into employing people of color as teachers and staff; having more events that talk about race, gender, sexuality, immigration, etc. and allowing students to express their experiences; making it a requirement that all staff attend equity meetings in order to learn more, as well as provide a better space for students; and questioning the school board in their decisions that prevent equitable events and situations to occur.”

Niles North videos used with permission from senior Zoe Lance.