Buckeye High School, a public school in Arizona, is at the center of the latest flare of tension surrounding the national discussion on racial policing and the Black Lives Matter movement.
It began last week, when student Mariah Havard wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt for picture day. Havard was taken to the principal's office and told to change her shirt, she wrote in a Facebook post detailing the incident.
"[The principal] tells me that my shirt is creating a disruption in the learning of education, she then tells me that I am not allowed to wear the shirt that means a great deal to me and my African American friends," Havard wrote. "She then walks out of the office and hands me a white shirt that's meaningless and non-political and has nothing to do [with] what I'm standing for."
In her post, Havard wrote that her school deemed the shirt disruptive because of an argument she had a day before with a white student who told her "black lives don't matter" and "that shirt is meaningless."
So on Monday morning, Havard and other students staged a walkout in protest of her being forced to change out of the shirt.
"We're not trying to start a race war. We're trying to end one," Buckeye student Genesis Santoyo, a friend of Havard, told The Arizona Republic. Santoyo has younger brothers, she said, and didn't want them to have to experience "such injustice."
The students were met outside the school by some of their parents and community leaders.
"When they wear their shirts that say Black Lives Matter, they're just telling you that their lives matter, too," Havard's mom, Roxanne Havard, told the local paper. "[People] have made death threats to the students here on Snapchat, Facebook, social media... The students that have made these threats have not had any consequences."
Havard added in her post that she has been verbally abused many times while wearing that shirt.
"I never meant to imply because black lives matter others don't!... At this point I'm starting to believe [that there's] a problem with the word black? It must be since they don't teach us about black people in school or tell me that me standing for my people against police brutality is 'disruptive in a learning environment.'"
The protest has since gained national coverage, and many people have expressed support for it. Havard told A Plus that she thinks people are paying attention because they "don't see kids fighting for what they believe in everyday...I hope this protest will show the people that just because we're young, doesn't mean we don't know what's going on."
Buckeye released a statement following the protest:
The district is aware of the peaceful protest adjacent to our campus today. In regards to the reasons they protested, you will have to ask the organizers. The district is working with staff, local leaders, and black lives matters representatives to develop a plan to turn the incident involving the black lives matter T-shirt from a negative situation into a positive learning experience. This is an excellent opportunity to teach tolerance, understanding, and acceptance for the diverse learners that make up BUHSD. This will be a process and [will] not happen overnight. It will take the support of all involved and from the communities we serve. BUHSD is committed to the success of all students.
Havard is adamant about her right to wear the shirt. "The first amendment is FREEDOM of speech, don't let anyone take that away from you, it's important," she said.
The controversy is yet another example of the deep division over the movement. While opponents counter that "all lives matter," BLM's supporters contend that rather than diminishing the importance of other communities' lives, black people are asserting that theirs matter, too — a fact that unfortunately needs to be said, considering the deep roots of racism that persist today.
A Plus has reached out to Buckeye High School.