Royal Oak Middle School students chant 'Build that wall'
One day after Republican candidate Donald Trump was elected president, some middle school students in Royal Oak chanted enthusiasm for one of his platform planks: building a wall between the United States and Mexico.
The incident was captured on video and widely shared on Facebook. It took place at lunchtime at Royal Oak Middle School.
As soon as the chants began, seventh-grader Josie Ramon, 12, said she pulled out her phone and captured the video to share with her mother.
"Tears were running down my face," said Josie, who is Mexican-American. "I was so upset. A friend went to the bathroom crying. Everybody was chanting along with it. She was scared. She looked really upset. I felt really bad for her."
"I knew I wanted evidence I could show my mom," Josie said. "It’s so unbelievably wrong. I had no tolerance of it so I recorded it."
Alicia Ramon said her daughter discreetly recorded the video and sent it to her. After Ramon shared it with another parent, the video spread and eventually and inevitably made its way to Facebook.
The short video shows students in a section of the cafeteria making a chant, as a student at a different table records. The video lasted only seconds.
This happened today at Royal Oak Middle School in Royal Oak, Michigan," wrote Dee Perez-Scott, who posted the video on Facebook on Wednesday. "It is so sad. Latino children were crying. The taunts, the 'Build that Wall' with such bullying power and hate from children to children. Just horrifying!"
The video has since gone viral, with more than 5 million views. It had been shared more than 104,000 times as of Thursday evening.
"We addressed this incident when it occurred. We are addressing it today," Royal Oak Schools superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin said in a statement. "We are working with our students to help them understand the impact of their words and actions on others in their school community," the statement continued.
The Detroit News has contacted the district for more information on the nature of the district's response.
Alicia Ramon said her daughter will grow stronger from this incident, just as she has after other instances of racially insensitive comments and jokes at the school. She said she feels for her daughter's friend, who went to the restroom to cry after the incident.
"I can only imagine her devastation in a place she’s supposed to feel safe, a group of friends she felt welcome by," Ramon said. "She no longer feels safe ... when your entire table stands up and says build a wall and you’re the only person of color that’s sitting there."
Ramon said she requested the district send home something in writing about the incident. They did not, she said, adding that the principal, Todd Noonan, posted a video message Thursday for students. She said she plans to meet with other parents and school officials to discuss the issue.
"For me, the message should be one of an open dialogue, teaching children empathy, love," she said. "This is a teachable moment."
Josie said she's received some backlash for recording the video, but she's also received support from a teacher and her friends. She said school officials need to find who started the chant and have a talk with them.
"They need to understand what they’ve done," she said. "I think the school needs to take charge."
The Royal Oak Police Department was at the middle school Thursday and was expected to be there throughout the day, Lt. Keith Spencer said.
"We are aware of the video and are monitoring comments on it as it gets shared," Spencer told The News.
Families have expressed concern about student safety after the incident, the school district's statement said.
"In responding to this incident — indeed in responding to this election — we need to hear each other’s stories, not slogans" Lewis-Lakin said in the statement. "We need to work towards understanding, not scoring points, and we need to find a way to move forward that respects and values each and every member of our community. We will be working on this in school today."