“This is RM”: Students and staff respond to hate crime
February 1, 2019
On Jan. 19, RM staff discovered a swastika spray-painted on the side of the building facing the stadium. Occurring almost three weeks after red cups on school property were rearranged to spell the n-word, this hate crime has resulted in student outrage and disappointment. The Rockville police were called and the swastika was removed immediately after the school was notified of the vandalism.
“These incidents are so disheartening for Richard Montgomery,” junior Jessica Holloway said. “For someone to have that much hate speaks volumes about the ever more present racism we forget that still plagues the community.”
According to the Rockville City Police Department, there were four hate-bias incidents at RM this past year. Citywide, the police department fielded a total of 8 hate-bias complaints in 2018.
Richard Montgomery is also not the only school in Montgomery County that has recently experienced racially motivated incidents. In November 2017, Churchill High School experienced similar hate crimes when a sign was found in the bathroom that read “Whites Only” and a swastika was found on a classroom desk.
“In this day and age, these types of incidents should not be happening,” senior Max Kandel of Churchill High School said. “My reaction to the hate crimes at RM was no different from when the hate crimes happened at my school. It is always disappointing, as racist incidents seem to be occurring way too often nowadays.”
In the aftermath of the incident, RM administration and security have been following all the safety protocols recommended by Montgomery County Public Schools, monitoring security cameras and securing the building internally and externally.
“There is an ongoing investigation into the recent incident at Richard Montgomery High School,” Maj. Eric Over of the Rockville City Police Department said in a statement. “The city is pleased to have a school resource officer assigned to the school. The SRO works to build a relationship between the city police department and the school community so that community members feel comfortable reporting incidents such as this one. The Rockville City Police Department takes these incidents seriously. We encourage community members to take them seriously as well and to remember that if you see something, say something.”
The police department advises students to reject stereotypes, report incidents of discrimination of hate crimes to parents or teachers, and support classmates who have been victims of bias-motivated crimes. Likewise, principal intern Kiera Butler said, “We also try to prevent these hate crimes through the inclusive environment we set.”
In an effort to unite the student body, RM recently held its second community meeting, which covered the topic of race. Students were able to express their ideas and interests on how to build a stronger community, having structured discussions facilitated by designated moderators.
“I think these talks are opening up some people’s eyes to an important conversation that did not necessarily involve them until now,” Holloway explained. “I think having discussions with friends and family about race will help to make sure there is a clear understanding of what is truly happening and how it is affecting our community. Then, as a unified force, we can speak up to declare that we do not and will never tolerate hate.”
In light of Martin Luther King Jr. Service Week, RM fought to bounce back from these incidents through an open forum on the half day. The “This is RM” campaign, in which students wrote messages of unity and social justice on a banner during lunch, also drew schoolwide support and participation.
“We cannot drive any type of campaign or initiative based on my feelings or how I think because it is not about me; it is really about us,” Ms. Butler said. “I need to hear the student voice which comes from us having that civil discourse, showcasing who we are as a school community.”
In a letter sent out to students and parents, Ms. Butler detailed her future plans for RM to continue engaging in activities relating to inclusivity and fortifying students’ dialogue about tolerance and unity.
“As students, I charge you with how you want to be seen and how you want to approach this. In no other time is your voice as powerful as now,” Ms. Butler said. “We have to own our community. We have to take a stance to be able to show what we represent and what we will absolutely not tolerate at our school.”