Peaceful protest at Texas high school becomes racially charged
A peaceful demonstration and discussion on gun violence at schools turned into a series of divisive skirmishes Tuesday at Eaton High School after several students displayed Confederate flags, according to students who attended.
About 100 students at Eaton High in far north Fort Worth demonstrated against gun violence and to honor the Feb. 14 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting.
The student-led event started in the student union and then moved into an outdoor courtyard for a moment of silence. But plans for a peaceful memorial devolved into fights surrounding race and gun rights, said Jordan Vine, an Eaton student who organized the demonstration.
"People came with the intention to disrupt," said Vine, who left campus after making written complaints. She had a confrontation with a student over a Confederate flag, according to a video she shared. One video shows Vine stepping on a Confederate flag and saying: "We don't stand for this here."
Vine was confronted by a male student who told her not to step on the Confederate flag.
Emily Conklin, spokeswoman for the Northwest school district, confirmed that some students brought Confederate flags to the demonstration. The school administration is looking into the matter.
"Today, a student-led event took place at Eaton High School, with the purpose to honor the students who lost their lives in Florida. Administration appreciates that students came directly to them ahead of time to ensure the event could be managed as safely as possible," the district said in a statement.
"Approximately 100 students participated. During the event, differences of opinions were expressed. Administration at the campus is addressing any concerns students have as well as any disciplinary issues. "
The district said there is no threat to safety at Eaton, and students are going about their day as normal.
The statement added: "We encourage student groups at district schools to collaborate with their campus teachers and administration when planning events. We support students making their voices heard, and while we encourage differences of opinions, it is our expectation that it is done so respectfully."
Daniel Segura, spokesman for the Fort Worth police, said there were no arrests or injuries.
"It was a student assembly that apparently got very vocal," Segura told the Star-Telegram in an email.
'Everyone was sharing opinions'
Eaton High School is in far north Fort Worth and has a Haslet mailing address. The campus had 1,603 students enrolled in grades 9-12 last school year. The campus is 65.3 percent white and 9.6 percent African American.
The school was recently the subject of news reports when a social media threat circulated in the Northwest and Eaton high school communities. Many students left classes early when they heard about the threat, including Vine.
Tuesday's event, originally promoted as Eaton Walk Out on Twitter, was a demonstration and a "learning experience." It was the latest attempt by student activists to bring attention to gun violence and school safety. It comes days before a national push for students to walk out of class this Friday — the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre near Denver.
"We are the country's future and our voices should be heard," Vine, 18, told the Star-Telegram days before the event. Vine is among thousands of North Texas activists who recently participated in March For Our Lives in Fort Worth.
The demonstration began at 9:30 a.m. during study hall, which is inside the campus. Vine said the discussion went well with debate between students who favor gun control to prevent school shootings and those who favor gun rights.
"Everyone is sharing their opinions," Vine recalled. But when they went outside she said the scene deteriorated because several students pulled out Confederate and "Don't Tread On Me" flags.
Students alluded to the flags on social media. One student posted: "For the people that brought confederate flags to the peaceful protest you should have known who it will offend."
Abbee, 16, another student at Eaton who didn't disclose her full name, told the Star-Telegram: "I do hope that there will be more unity within Eaton High School. I couldn’t keep count of how many. I just remember being out there and seeing so many people just fighting and that’s not what we wanted. We wanted to peacefully protest; and recognize everyone who has lost their lives to gun violence. I will NOT be a statistic. We will not stand down until there is a change."
Another student posted video on Instagram that depicts several students with American flags and a student with a Confederate flag. Students appear to be engaging in an emotional discussion.
The share text on the post says: "The school organized a walkout to recognize students and teachers that have been a victim of gun violence. Some students decided it was a good idea to bring confederate flags to the walkout and call students of color racial slurs. This was supposed to be a peaceful walkout to pay homage to shooting victims, but racists care so much about their guns that they can’t even let dead people have a moment ... fights broke out during this moment of 'silence.'"
Fallout from the demonstration continued on social media throughout the evening Tuesday and Wednesday with student organizers and critics in the community going back and forth on social media. Some criticized how the demonstration created problems at the school. But the organizer of the protest stood by her actions.
Plans for peaceful demonstrations
Vine said she spoke with the school administration about the demonstration in the days leading up to it. The demonstration was student-led — not a school-sponsored event. Students agreed to follow the school rules.
"Northwest ISD encourages students to take an active part in civic and democratic processes, and we support our students making their voices heard in a responsible, respectful manner," the district said in a written statement before Tuesday. "We appreciate that students came directly to school administrators to ensure the event was safe, and we encourage student groups at district schools to always work with their campus teachers and administration when planning events.”
Vine said that after the Parkland shootings, students are "hyper-aware" of the potential for school shootings.
"That fear is always there," she said.
The Eaton event was scheduled Tuesday to accommodate students who had school-related conflicts, Vine said. It is the first of numerous events planned locally and nationally for later this week.
"Columbine is when this nation first realized that we are not safe at school," said Dakota Rudzik, an 18-year-old senior who plans to walk out of Keller Central High School on Friday.
Rudzik said students at his school plan to hold a 17-minute moment of silence starting at 10 a.m. Friday. Then they will peacefully protest the rest of the day.
Last month, hundreds of thousands of activists participated in March For Our Lives rallies in Washington, D.C., and cities across the country. In Fort Worth, thousands participated in a local March For Our Lives rally on March 24, including students from Eaton, Keller Central, Southlake Carroll and Fort Worth Paschal.
Also, last month, more than 600 students in Southlake Carroll schools participated in a walkout to bring attention to gun violence at schools.
School walkouts planned for Friday have been posted on the internet and social media using the hashtag #NationalSchoolWalkout. Students in North Texas have been planning to participate and scheduled events on an online webpage.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.