Fairfield, CT – A Fairfield high school student who used a racist slur about a black classmate in a Snapchat has been charged with a hate crime, and civil rights advocates have called the charges an attack on free speech.
A 16-year-old student at Fairfield Warde High School posted a picture of a black classmate sitting at a desk on May 7 with an offensive and racist caption, the Associated Press reported.
“Why is there a [N-word] in my homeroom?” and “Why is he not in chains,” the Snapchat caption asked.
The black student’s mother, Judith Medor, contacted the school and the police when her son told her about it and showed her the racist image, WABC reported.
“I just had no words when I saw it. I was so confused,” 16-year-old Jamar Medor, who is the boy circled in the picture, said.
His mother was understandably horrified, WABC reported.
“I was like ‘oh my god,’ my mouth just dropped because I couldn’t believe it — how the other student would do something like this regarding my son,” Judith Medor said.
Later the same afternoon that the Medors found out about the Snapchat post, the 16-year-old classmate of Jamar Medor was arrested and charged with breach of peace and racial harassment, WABC reported.
The student who sent the Snapchat is white, but has not been identified by name because he is a juvenile.
The specific charge against him is a state hate crime of ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race, the Associated Press reported.
But the infrequently used misdemeanor created in 1917 has not been used often because the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other free speech advocates have called it an infringement on the First Amendment.
Police and civil rights advocates said it was very unusual for a student to be arrested for an offensive social media post if the content of it didn’t involve a threat, incitement, or a pattern of harassment, according to the Associated Press.
“Having racist ideas or sharing racist ideas is something that we actually protect,” Emerson Sykes, senior staff attorney with national ACLU organization, said. “Even if that viewpoint is offensive, even if it’s deplorable, we don’t want the government making the call about what’s okay to say and think and what is not. But we have limitations on that right.”
Sykes said he thought school officials were the ones who should discipline the offender in such a case, the Associated Press reported.
Charges have been filed under the law on ridiculing about 40 times since 2012 but have resulted in only 10 convictions.
Legislation that would have eliminated that specific statute expired in the state legislature in 2020 because of delays caused by the pandemic, the Associated Press reported.
Fairfield Warde High School sent a letter to parents to address the matter after the Snapchat first appeared and said the school had talked to the families involved, NBC News reported.
The high school’s principal, Paul Cavanna, sent a second letter a week later that said he had discussed the “hateful incident” with students and staff.
Cavanna said he had reviewed state and federal guidelines on race-based discrimination, made counseling available to students, and planned to create a “unity coalition” to tackle the issue head-on, NBC News reported.
Judith Medor said the school suspended the student who harassed her son for 10 days, WABC reported.
She said it wasn’t enough and she wanted the boy to be expelled from school for what he had done to her son.
“I don’t know what he’s going to do to my son. That’s the reason why I’m worried for his safety,” Judith Medor said.
Jamar Medor is a basketball player and said he has never experienced racism in his school before, WABC reported.
He said he stayed home from school the day after the Snapchat circulated.
“I just don’t feel comfortable going to school or walking the halls, so I stayed home today actually,” the 16 year old told WABC.
Judith Medor said her younger son had experienced racism on a Facetime call the next day, the Associated Press reported.
She said she was considering changing the boys’ school to avoid retaliation.
“I’m worried. I’m still concerned,” the mother told the Associated Press. “Because we’re living in a crazy world where people do all kinds of crazy things. You don’t know. And since he got expelled, so that’s what I’m thinking in the back of my mind, about retaliation.”
But despite her concerns, the ACLU of Connecticut said the law the other student had been charged under remained unconstitutional, the Associated Press reported.
The group’s executive director, David McGuire, said he wasn’t aware of any other cases in Connecticut where a public school student had been arrested for a social media post.