NEW YORK (PIX11) — For the second time this school year, students at one local high school are in trouble for wearing deeply offensive statements on their shirts.
This time, it’s anti-Semitic symbols and messages that have some people asking how this sort of problem could happen again. But some behaviors on display outside of the school on Wednesday may offer insights into the root of the problem.
The incident involved two students at Commack High school. At a house party over spring break last week, the pair, a boy and a girl, wore matching, homemade t-shirts to show that they were teammates in a beer pong drinking game. Each shirt prominently displayed a large swastika with the word “Auschwitz” written in large, bold letters above it.
Below it, two phrases were written out calling for the killings of concentration camp inmates.
“It just doesn’t seem right what they did,” one senior told PIX11 News outside of Commack High School Wednesday.
He was among thousands of people who saw the photo of the pair on social media, where the two beer pong teammates had posted it, before it was taken down. The male teen in the picture is well known by students.
“I don’t think he should have his position any longer, and should be refrained from having another in the future,” said Jeremy Cole, another senior who, along with other students at the school, identified the boy in the picture as a student council leader.
That in turn caused some to say he should know better, especially since this latest incident comes just six months after a group of Commack students posted a picture of them wearing t-shirts that each had a letter on the front that together spelled out the word “rape ” while they stood over a student with his hands tied.
In this latest incident , the school district reacted with this statement, which said, in part, “The District is taking all necessary steps to investigate and will impose discipline related to this where legally permissible.
We do not condone or permit any form of discrimination, bullying, or hateful messaging.” A district spokesperson also told us off camera that sensitivity training would be ordered for the people in the picture and anyone else in attendance at the underage party. However, that training may be helpful for more than just them.
Over and over, students approached media outside of the school, including PIX11 News, yelling expletives and threatening reporters and photographers. Some parents also yelled angrily at gathered journalists.
“I’m not surprised, I’m really not,” said Alexis Cruz, a local resident who graduated from Commack High School last year. “There’s no respect here,” she said.
Cole, the senior, said that he’s Jewish, and that, to his knowledge, Commack’s population is about 20 percent Jewish. He said that the most appropriate next step for the people who made and wore the anti-Semitic shirts should be to learn from their significant mistake.
“They should have to sit down with someone in the Jewish faith who is knowledgeable,” he told PIX11 News, “and see why it was wrong.”
A person who fits that description is Evan Bernstein, New York regional director of the Anti Defamation League, a Jewish organization created to fight hatred.
“We have to keep our eye on the ball,” he said in a recent interview with PIX11 News about a recently documented rise in the number of hate groups in New York, as well as an increase in the number of hateful acts, like the swaztika-emblazoned t-shirts. Bernstein said that everybody, Jews and non-Jews, has to “do whatever we can to eliminate it.”