Race May Have Had Role in Brawl

Isolde Raftery, Columbian (Vancouver, Washington), September 29, 2007

Fourteen Fort Vancouver High School students were expelled on an emergency basis Friday after a fight with possible gang and racial overtones broke out in the main foyer Thursday.

Mick Hoffman, director of security for Vancouver Public Schools, called the incident the “largest altercation at one time.”

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The aunt of a student involved in the fight, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her niece, said that tensions between black and Hispanic students have been festering for about a week.

On Wednesday, students told her niece—who is half-black, half-white—to “pick a race,” the woman said. Her niece reported the incident to the school’s main office. She then called her mother to pick her up because she was nervous about what might happen.

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Earl Ford, president of the Vancouver branch of the NAACP, said the group was called by black parents and is planning a meeting with school district officials and the police next week to discuss the incident and issues between police and black parents.

“We wanted to be a calming voice for black parents who often don’t feel they’ll be treated fairly by school district officials, or by law enforcement,” Ford said. “We heard that what precipitated this fight was the liberal use of the ‘n’ word, and that a student reported it and nothing was done—even when they told us last year that they have a zero tolerance policy toward the ‘n’ word.”

Hoffman said the fight involved some students who claim gang ties, but the fray also had racial overtones. He said there have been reports of tension within ethnic groups for some time, but that friction between blacks and Hispanics may be relatively new.

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Kim Kapp, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department, said the officer who works around the high school reported 10 to 15 fights off-campus between groups of Fort Vancouver students since school started.

“There’s obviously some sort of underlying problem here,” Kapp said. “We’re continuing to work with the school district to determine what’s going on with students not getting along.”

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