The video of a Mount Hebron High School senior's rant against African-Americans has ignited a debate among Howard County students, with some saying it sheds light on racism at the school and others calling it a one-off, drunken mistake.
"Sometimes as a school, we forget that problems like this do exist and they're still going on," said Dominique McPherson, a black student in her junior year at Mount Hebron. "I think the video was a wake-up call in a way."
"Yes, the county's diverse," said Christine Caulker, a senior at Howard High School who is also African American. "But racism is like the secret that's pushed under the carpet."
In the 30-second video, which first caught attention last week and has been shared dozens of times on social media, a Mount Hebron High senior, who is white, disparages the Black Lives Matter movement, saying, "I mean, seriously, who the [expletive] cares about some black man who dies?"
Black lives do not matter, he says on the video, because "they're an inferior race, OK? Does anybody really care?"
The student then points to an image of Abraham Lincoln on a $5 bill and says, "This guy is a traitor to the white race."
In a letter to parents Jan. 28, Howard County School Superintendent Renee Foose said that Mount Hebron High's principal and other school administrators were investigating the video, and that conferences were being conducted with the involved students and their parents.
Howard County schools spokesman John White said that the student code of conduct allows disciplinary action to be administered in response to off-campus behavior that is deemed disruptive to a school. White said Monday that no disciplinary action had been taken yet.
In her letter, Foose also asked parents to participate in her "call to action" by not sharing the video.
"This is more than an example of an irresponsible use of social media," she writes. "It is hateful. No Howard County public school student should engage in this type of conduct, nor do they need to be exposed to it."
But Justin Johnson, a senior at Mount Hebron High, said that he was not surprised by the video because he has experienced racism at his school before.
"It's not the first time. I was more surprised because I didn't expect anyone to really do anything about it," said the black student. "I was surprised that it blew up as much as it did."
Justin and several other Mount Hebron students who are black said that white students use the "N" word in their school's hallways, and that an area where black students hang out is referred to as "the jungle."
But other students disagree with these claims that racism is prevalent at the school saying that the video was blown out of proportion and has cast a false light on Mount Hebron High.
"I don't really see it," said John Benyi, an African-American senior at Mount Hebron. "We don't have racist problems."
"I haven't felt any racial tension at the school in my four years there," said Derrick Alexander, a senior at Mount Hebron who is also black. "I feel like this isn't a fair portrayal of my school or [the student in the video]."
What the student said was unjustifiable, Alexander said, but the video should not be "out there for everyone to see."
"I don't feel like it's fair to him that his one mistake should be put on blast," Alexander said.
The video is not the first controversy of its kind involving Mount Hebron High or another Howard County school in recent years.
In 2009, three students broke into the Ellicott City school and painted swastikas and the letters "KKK" inside a classroom. They were charged as minors with second- and fourth-degree burglary, two counts of malicious destruction of property, 13 counts of theft and defacing school property with hate messages.
Last year, a Glenelg High School student was disciplined after he displayed a Confederate flag at a River Hill High football game.
The Mount Hebron High student in the video from last week has since written an apology on his Facebook page, describing what he said as "racist, ignorant and overall an awful thing to say and to do. ... I hope to learn from this mistake as well as not let it define who I am as a person."
Alexander and other students have used a hashtag on social media in support of forgiving the student, with comments that say the Mount Hebron High student was drunk and did not mean what he said.
"Before it blew up, he felt bad about what had happened. He just wants it all to be over," Alexander said. "Everyone deserves a second chance."
Other students do not share that opinion.
"What he said about black lives not mattering — he knows how much pain is attached to that," Caulker said. "It's just astounding how someone can be so hateful."
"Drunk actions are sober thoughts," McPherson said. "So he probably really does think it."
Johnson said he was disappointed by the superintendent's response because it diminished and brushed the problem aside.
"That's just throwing it under the rug and letting it happen," Johnson said. "If we're not going to allow the community to see that, then how are we going to solve the problem?"
Johnson said that the video should be posted and shared.