February 13, 2013

Greely students remorseful after 'Hitler' photo

The high school holds an assembly to address an online incident that could be seen as anti-Semitic.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

CUMBERLAND – Students at a schoolwide assembly Tuesday at Greely High School issued a statement acknowledging the insensitivity of a photo that surfaced online showing two members of Greely's girls' basketball team, in uniform, making the Nazi salute.

click image to enlarge

Greely High School held a school-wide assembly in their gym to address biased language and offensive speech in response to an incident last week. Max Bahlkow, a senior and president of Greely's Civil Rights Team, reads a statement to the gathered students during the assembly.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

The statement was crafted with help from the basketball players, who have not been publicly identified, and members of the school's civil rights team. It was read to the student body by an unidentified student.

"We the students and staff of Greely High School would like to express to our community our regret about recent events," the statement said. "We feel these events do not accurately represent our feelings toward people of different religions, races, colors, national origins, ancestries, sexual orientations, genders or different abilities, nor do they reflect our attitudes about the Holocaust."

The school held the assembly Tuesday to discuss how to move forward from last week's incident, which led school administrators to meet with and discipline members of the team. Officials would not say what the discipline was.

The photo, which administrators said was taken by a parent and posted on Facebook, shows two members of the basketball team facing each other, raising their right arms as in a Nazi salute, and smiling. Between them, a third member sits cross-legged, giving the peace sign.

"We recognize this could be especially painful for the Jewish members of our community," the statement said. "We deeply regret these incidents and the students involved realize their actions were hurtful."

The incident has drawn criticism and scrutiny from the Anti-Defamation League's New England branch, and from the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine. Leaders from both organizations, along with a representative from the Holocaust and Human Rights Center at the University of Maine at Augusta, plan to meet with the principals of Greely High School and Greely Middle School next week.

The advocates are expected to push for new curriculum elements to pre-emptively address issues of biased language and speech that could be construed as hateful or offensive.

The primary speaker at Tuesday's assembly was Brandon Baldwin, coordinator of the Civil Rights Team project in the state Attorney General's Office. Baldwin had been scheduled to deliver remarks in March, but his visit was moved up after the photo and online language became an issue.

Baldwin said actions targeting Jews represent 10 percent of all hate crimes reported to the Attorney General's Office.

"Here in Maine, it is not entirely uncommon for people to be targeted by others based their religion, more specifically based on the fact that they are Jewish," he said.

Through anecdotes and the reading of a children's book, "Terrible Things," which is an allegory for the Holocaust, Baldwin hoped to impress on the students that words' effects run deep, he said.

"You don't always know your audience," he said. "You don't always know what the effects might be for your actions."

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

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