Students nationwide participated in a 17-minute school walkout today to honor the 17 people dead in the Parkland, Florida school shooting and to make a symbolic call for gun control legislation. However, the call was overshadowed by a racial argument for students at Central Cabarrus High School in Concord, North Carolina, who were dealing with the fallout after a gun control discussion on social media led to strange repercussions. Two black students at the high school were given a two-day in-school suspension after reposting a Snapchat video of a white student saying the n-word during a discussion about gun reform sparked by the planned gun control protests, BuzzFeed News reports.
There was a schoolwide discussion at the Concord high school about the protest, with many students allegedly criticizing the walkout and speaking in support of guns. "Someone posted on Snapchat how the walkout would be stupid, how without guns we wouldn't have any of the stuff we have today, and that we were wasting our time walking out," Carmani Harris-Jackson, 15, said. In response, she then started posting videos to her own Snapchat talking about gun reform and supporting the walkout.
In the story, she said that people like herself were not trying to “take guns away,” and rather simply advocating for more restrictions on who has access to them. According to Harris-Jackson, she and a few other students, who identify as white and conservative, went back and forth. Then, a white female student recorded her white female friend—both students at CCHS—saying: "They’re putting laws on who can purchase a gun. No, nigger..."
Harris-Jackson told BuzzFeed she took the video as a direct insult to her comments on Snapchat. She saved the video, and along with her best friend, Trinity Smith, 16, who is also a student at CCHS, reposted it on their Facebook and Twitter profiles. They named the girl who said the racial slur and also identified her as a student at their school. It got over 10,000 views and 200 retweets—and that was just on Smith’s Twitter account.
Both girls posted the video in an attempt to hold their fellow student accountable. They both noted that were witnesses to racism at CCHS—“KKK” has reportedly been scratched into bathroom walls and white students regularly casually say the n-word. They both felt these incidents had been ignored, and they took action. As a result, other students reposted the video as well with their own experiences of racism at the school. Current and former students emailed the Principal, Andrew Crook, with their concerns. By contrast, other white students defended the girl who said the original racial slur.
"Me and [the girl who said it] were friends before this happened. We had a class together. We would talk together. But as soon as I have a difference in views, you call me a very harmful and offensive racial slur? She said it in a joking manner, but there are boundaries of things you joke about, and that's not one of the things you joke about it," Harris-Jackson said.
The morning after the video with the slur was first posted on the Internet, school administrators asked both Smith and Harris-Jackson to remove it from their social media. They initially hesitated but eventually complied. Smith agreed after school authorities assured her, and her mother on speakerphone, that she would not face disciplinary consequences for posting the video.
Sure enough, however, the next day, both girls received two days of in-school suspension. The reason was that they had created a “disruptive environment.” The punishment that the two white girls—both the one who said the racial slur and the one who filmed it—received is unclear. Four students told BuzzFeed News that they got out-of-school suspensions. Ronnye Boone, the communications director for Cabarrus County Schools, would not discuss the matter.
"I know for a fact if I hadn't posted it and cause a 'disruption,' you would haven't cared as much, you all would have swept it under the rug," said Harris-Jackson, talking about the school administration.
"I can understand if I actually did something bad, but the fact is, I didn't threaten this girl, I didn't say anything derogatory, I didn't start a fight with her. The only thing I did was post a video and said I was disgusted with what she said. Because it is disgusting," said Smith, who is biracial.
Smith's mother, Sharon Shingler, 47, agreed that her daughter's suspension was "very baffling.” "You are standing up for what is right, and you’re getting in trouble for standing up for what's right," said Shingler.
"Cabarrus County Schools seeks to provide a safe, inviting and motivating learning environment for all of our students. Racial prejudice and insensitivity have no place in our classrooms or on our campuses," spokesperson Boone said in a statement. "We investigate all claims and use the provisions outlined in Board Policy to determine disciplinary action.”
The incident and the ensuing rollout of consequences resulted in a loss of momentum regarding the school walkout inspired by the Parkland students. CCHS threatened students with ten days of suspension if they participated in the walkout. Instead, the school promoted a student-led assembly and encouraged students to take a photo with a “banner of solidarity.”
"As much as I want to do something to represent Parkland, everything the school is trying to do is for publicity, and I don't want to participate in that," said Harris-Jackson. "They don't have the right idea about it and I refuse to take a picture with a banner just so my principal can say he 'tried' to do something.”