A Washington school district is reeling after a school board meeting led by a Black superintendent was interrupted by virtual attendees — one displaying an image of George Floyd as a looped recording of racial slurs played.
Police in Enumclaw, a city about 50 miles southeast of Seattle, are now investigating the “deeply disturbing” Nov. 22 incident of what is often referred to as “Zoom-bombing” as a possible hate crime, the department said in a Wednesday statement.
Two Zoom attendees interrupted the hybrid virtual and in-person meeting by repeating racial slurs, the Enumclaw School District said in a statement. One of the individuals had in their frame an image of Floyd, whose murder by a Minneapolis police officer last year led to nationwide protests demanding police accountability and reform. The other appeared to be an elderly white man, the district said.
The district said it is cooperating with the police investigation, which has identified two IP addresses in connection with the incident. District officials added in the statement that virtual school board meeting attendees will now only be allowed to view the meeting and those wanting to publicly comment must attend in person.
“Let it be clear, hate has no home here,” the statement said.
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The incident at Enumclaw is only the latest in a surge of disruptive behavior at school board meetings nationwide as anger boils over during debates on pandemic precautions, racism and critical race theory. Once quiet, ill-attended public meetings have become the epicenter of tense, sometimes violent clashes as angry mobs, assaults and arrests have become increasingly common.
Just last month, someone interrupted an online California school district equity committee meeting by yelling a racial slur and displaying pornographic images, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In a separate incident, two people hurled transphobic and anti-Semitic remarks at a Pennsylvania school district meeting, according to the Morning Call.
The National School Boards Association has said the unruly conduct, including death threats directed at school board members, has at times risen to a form of domestic terrorism. In an October letter to President Joe Biden’s administration, the group requested a federal investigation and help from the FBI to maintain safety of school board members and district officials.
Attorney General Merrick Garland in October ordered the FBI to address a “disturbing trend” in violent threats against school officials and teachers.
Zoom-bombing, which refers to disruptive intrusions of online video meetings often using pornography or hate speech, has also become a concern as public meetings turned virtual amid the pandemic. During the pandemic, racist Zoom-bombing attacks have targeted Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, doctoral dissertation defenses, children’s storytelling events, school district meetings, poetry workshops, Black History Month events and more.
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The Nov. 22 Zoom-bombing in Enumclaw shook the community and the school district’s superintendent Shaun Carey, who told residents in a letter that though this isn’t the first racist experience he’s faced, it left him “unsettled and disheartened.” He said the words and images used by the Zoom-bombers “were aimed at degrading people of color.”
Enumclaw’s city council and Mayor Jan Molinaro said in a statement the “horrid incident” marked “a day to mourn in our city,” adding that “some of our town pride died” that day.
“If we in this community don’t denounce what occurred…what will all our children continue to think? What will be passed along?” the statement said. “It is time to end this hateful rhetoric and set examples of strength and unity.”