Family Says Racist Photo of Denfeld Student 'Absolutely a Hate Crime' |

Family Says Racist Photo of Denfeld Student 'Absolutely a Hate Crime'

Emily Haavik

March 09, 2015 10:39 PM

The Duluth School District is deciding how to move forward after a racist photo surfaced at Denfeld High School through social media.

The photo showed an African American student with a noose around his neck, and the caption "Gotta hang em all."

Stephan Witherspoon says the student in the picture is his nephew.

"I feel heartbroken," he said. "A little fearful. Because, you know, this type of hate represents a lot more than just a picture that was spread around in the school. It represents a people that have been oppressed for hundreds of years — hosed and burned and lynched."

Witherspoon said the photo is "absolutely a hate crime."

"It instills fear in our young, especially our young African American men and women," he said.

Students at Denfeld reacted to the photo on Monday. Senior Indiana Molitor said she thinks the photo points to a bigger problem.

"I think there's more problems than just a little picture going around," she said. "Bullying and stuff like that, that's a bigger issue to me than a picture, because I think a picture can be eliminated."

The Duluth School District is working closely with Denfeld site administrators to look into the matter and decide how to move forward.

"We're shocked and disappointed at this event," said Superintendent Bill Gronseth. "It's unfortunate, but it's also a time fro us to come together as a community and face this issue and decide how we move forward."

Gronseth said he cannot discuss the punishment of the students responsible, but they have been identified.

Witherspoon said he has confidence in the way the school is handling the matter.

"I'm going to have faith that the process that the school is going through with these kids, they will be very vigilant on giving the right consequences," he said.

Gronseth said that while they are disappointed, the school district is also using the opportunity to promote dialogue among Denfeld families.

"We've reached out to the parents at Denfeld and really encouraged the parents to have conversations with their students about what happened, and about social media and about the responsibility to use social media in a respectful way," he said.

Some students already seem to know the power of social media, though. Senior Connor Floerke said he was surprised by the incident — and also that the perpetrators went through with posting the photo online.

"Just a foolish thing to post on social media," he said. "A foolish thing to do in general, but to take it to the next step is a lot worse."

As for Witherspoon and his family, he says they hope this can be a teaching moment.

"I would definitely want to see the kids involved as well," he said. "Our youth have to have a voice."

And the Denfeld youth will, indeed, have a voice. Molitor said she's part of a student group that's working on a mural called "Stop the Bullying, Post the Positive." She said they will encourage students to post positive notes on the walls.

"Like love, hope, faith," she said. "Good things around the school."

Molitor said they're trying to make their school a better place.

"It takes everybody to be involved," said Witherspoon. "It takes everybody to say no. It takes everybody to want to eradicate this hate, and all hate."

He said the Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial in Downtown Duluth should be a reminder that incidents like these bring up years and years of historical trauma.

"This is not new to our people, our nation," he said. "This is the dark side of America."


Emily Haavik

Copyright 2016 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved


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