Hatred and Intimidation in Vero Beach

Two Voices (of Many) Speak Against Hatred and Intimidation at the Indian River County School Board Meeting:

Sandy Mandel: Retired Educator, Businesswoman, and Mother

Good evening. My name is Sandy Mandel and I am a full time Vero Beach resident, living in the Moorings. I’ve owned 10 investment properties along the barrier island as well, so I am speaking tonight as an investor in Vero Beach, a taxpayer and a voter. But mainly, I am here to speak as a concerned citizen, and what I am concerned about right now, is the character of Indian River County.

Increasingly this year, the character of American communities has been tied to the hateful symbols that we allow, tolerate or support, either openly or tacitly. Look for instance at Charlottesville, whose character is now equated worldwide with symbols of hate – swastikas, racially charged placards, and symbols of the Confederacy that have been flaunted in a manner designed solely to drive a wedge through Charlottesville’s citizens by inciting hatred among otherwise respectable community members.

By 1860, our nation’s black population had jumped to 4.4 million, most of whom were slaves, too valuable economically to be set free by the Confederacy. And the primary symbol for this systemic abomination was the Confederate Flag. Just as the swastika was and remains the symbol for anti-Semitism and the extermination of 6 million Jews, the Confederate Flag was and remains the symbol of the whippings, beatings, lynching and all other kinds of hateful, heinous acts against slaves and their ancestors who today comprise our African-American community. This flag was a symbol of Jim Crow segregation laws and opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. Most white supremacist groups like the KKK have adopted it. Is this the symbol we wish to define the character of Vero Beach and the Indian River County school system?

I was a public high school teacher for 35 years, and I’m guessing that makes me as experienced with high schools and high school students as just about anyone in this room. And this experience gives me three lessons to impart to you in closing: first, our encouragement of the use by our students of hateful symbols will embolden and empower these students to become hateful and bigoted members of our community. Second, the use by students of hateful symbols will have a wide-ranging, immediate and lasting negative impact on those students who are the target of their actions. And finally, mark my words: any encouragement of the use by our students of hateful symbols will come to define Indian River County and become an open invitation to the KKK, neo-Nazis and other hate-mongers to come to our community, as it did in Charlottesville, as recently as this week.

I ask this Board, on behalf of the many, many concerned citizens of our county to ban the confederate flag, as the hate symbol it is, on all of our school campuses and commit to giving every student of every color a safe environment and equal opportunity to an education, as required by law.

Merchon Green: Founder, Pioneering Change

It is such a sad moment that I must stand before you and plead with you, the very people put in place to protect our children.  I was torn between speaking to weigh on your conscience and reminding you of your job duties.  So, I will start with this.  It is time that we end the racism and inequality in our schools.

IRCSD is under a federally mandated desegregation order from 1965. It is 2017. 52 years later and this desegregation order STILL has not been complied with. This order DOES NOT require the district to do anything out of the ordinary, just the bare minimum for black students which is the SAME educational standards in place for white students. And instead of the district complying with the order, Administration and our school board has chosen to spend almost a million dollars of tax payers’ money to litigate AWAY the duty to provide black students with the same quality of education as white students.

Only 25% of black students in 10th grade are reading on grade level or above. That means that 75% of black 10th graders are reading BELOW grade level.  In 2 years they will be released to the world. How will they survive? What exactly has this district prepared them for?

With those numbers, our students can’t afford to have any distractions in their learning environment. Yet, there is Administration and Board supported racism and inequality schools. Historically in this district, whenever there are 2 or more African American students together, they are labeled as gang members even absent criminal behavior and are often suspended for their associations.  However, when students are gathered wearing confederate flags and explicitly posting on social media their intent to intimidate with those flags NOTHING happens to them.

This flag represented the South, which fought to keep slavery when blacks were slaves and legally counted as 3/5s of person. This flag is drenched in our black ancestors’ blood. This flag is embraced and branded by the KKK. And it is proudly flaunted by white supremacists as recent as last Monday, again, in Charlottesville. This flag that Dylann Roof embraced and said he murdered 9 black church members in Charleston to uphold this flag’s values and celebrate Southern Pride.  THIS is the flag that YOU DEFEND claiming the 1st amendment and allows in our schools every day to remind black children of when their ancestors were beaten, maimed, hung, dismembered, sold, tortured, raped, humiliated and owned by white people.

Then the very next day you discussed the code of conduct, NOT to remind the students that they should not wear clothing that intimidates or harasses other students. But instead, you reminded students that if they shared these types of pictures with their parents to inform them of the issues in this school, they would be penalized. The students who bully and intimidate their peers received no consequences. The message imparted by these actions clearly shows that these students are not important.

Without those children there would be no schools. Without those children you would have no jobs. Yet, there is a blatant disregard for the education and safety of black students. Historically, every year there has been racial tensions, fights and even riots. We ask that you care enough about black students to not allow this flag in the school for purposes other than teaching. Let’s not wait until IRC is the next Columbine. You are the Administration and the board. You are the adults.  You are to intervene before tragedy strikes. You are to educate and protect ALL children, and currently you are FAILING at BOTH.