What the Flagler Branch of the NAACP billed as a “unified public support press conference” for the high school teacher targeted last week by two students’ racist threats turned into a brief show for television cameras rather than a press conference this afternoon on the plaza before the county courthouse, with its organizer shutting down questions and later refusing to answer them–and physically attempting to keep a reporter from asking questions of the organization’s president.
The 10-minute huddle, rimmed by several dozen people, was led by Eric Josey, an NAACP spokesman the organization’s president, Linda Sharpe-Matthews, said the teacher and her husband had asked to speak on their behalf.
In his release to media ahead of today’s event, Josey charged that “Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly initially sought to bury this incident in finding no probable cause for criminal charges. He later relented and under charged the students with misdemeanor assault.”
Josey repeated the charge again today: “He’s sitting on this even now because he still hasn’t brought the proper charges,” Josey said, looking for the students in question to be charged with felony assault and hate-crime charges.
The statements prefaced today’s event with a confrontational tenor at odds with its presumption of “unity,” and with no evidence–other than historic trends predating him–that Staly had sat on charges: if anything, Staly and his agency have been aggressively and at times heavy-handedly arresting students on the slightest hint of a threat, intended or not (all have been unintended, or expressed as “jokes” by misjudging juveniles). Six students faced charges last week alone. Four of them were arrested.
The two racist students were charged but not arrested, though their case raises numerous questions that would make even misdemeanor charges against them difficult to uphold in court.
Josey, who tends to shoot first and ask few questions, has a history of making incendiary statements or threatening lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Office, and lied on his application to work there two years ago, resulting in his resignation weeks after the sheriff at the time had given him a job. He choreographed today’s event as a series of statements by himself, Sharpe-Matthews, Lee and her husband, Travis Lee–assistant principal at Rymfire Elementary–a local Democratic Party leader and an ACLU representative, intervened when questions were directed at Lee, then ended the interaction with reporters after one or two questions. For a news conference, there was little by way of news, other than the targeted teacher’s presence and brief statement, the rest trending more toward grandstanding than clarity.
Flagler Palm Coast High School teacher Kimberley Lee, who is black, was the target a week ago of an online chat exchange by two students, one of them in her class, who described her in the vilest, racist terms and wrote as if they were planning her murder at her home, an act they wrote would win them applause because blacks “don’t have rights.” They used the more incendiary and bigoted language of lynchings, then challenged each other to outdo each other in derogatory “jokes” about blacks.
The day the threats were written the students were removed from campus but the Sheriff’s Office found no grounds to charge them, charging them with assault the next day, after interviewing Lee, who said she felt her life was in danger as she and her husband acquired a gun to protect themselves. Lee wanted to press charges.
“Obviously I’ve never experienced something like this before, it’s heartbreaking,” Lee said today in the brief statement she did make. “I miss my students.” She said she did not feel safe anymore and has not been back to her classroom, but did not answer repeated questions about when or whether she would be returning to teach. Asked about her status in the district, spokesman Jason Wheeler wrote in an email: “Her status with FCS is still the same as it was before the incident. She is currently a language arts teacher at FPC. She has not stopped teaching.”
Sharpe-Matthews last week echoed school officials, including the current and former principals at FPC and the district’s attorney, who all said racially-motivated incidents have been isolated and rare at the school.
After the moment with the cameras in front of the courthouse this afternoon, an attempt to ask Josey questions fell short when he stormed off after being asked why he would not let Lee speak, though he had invited her to stand before cameras and reporters (he said she has a pending legal case), then returned to keep a reporter from speaking with Sharpe-Matthews, then push him to a further area of the plaza, until he was threatened with legal action and Sharpe-Matthews told him to desist.
Sharpe-Matthews agreed that a zero-tolerance on any kind of threats is a “slippery slope,” and acknowledged the NAACP’s past efforts to move the school district away from zero-tolerance policies. But the nature of threats must be investigated individually, she said, to determine intent and, where necessary, make arrests. She said the two students who targeted Lee “absolutely” should have been arrested.
“I think it was a credible threat, I do,” she said of the students’ chat. “You can’t wait until what happens, happens, to say oh my gosh, we should have taken this seriously.”
“This is not a joking matter anymore, it’s too commonplace,” Sharpe-Matthews continued. She said the NAACP would have been demonstrating just as much if two other students charged in an unrelated threat incident last week had not been charged. Referring to Staly, she made a distinction with the way the students who threatened Lee were treated. “This is the first time that he has let children go home in the custody of their parents, and I truly believe that if they had been black children they would have been cuffed. You know about the disparity with black children, we filed a lawsuit with the Southern Poverty Law Center for that reason only, and that’s what we know. It’s not something we’re guessing is going to happen. It’s something that has been happening. There’s a history here.”
The Sheriff’s Office had become aware of Josey’s claim on Monday, when it issued a release of its own disputing his charge in a pre-emptive move before today’s conference.
“Despite the allegations in the letter, Sheriff Rick Staly and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office never sought ‘to bury the case,’ the release stated. “The Sheriff’s Office conducts thorough, color-blind investigations on all cases until completion, without setting time constraints on the process.” The release acknowledged that the initial investigation had been “incomplete” and flawed,” and assigned to the agency’s investigative division “well before” the NAACP raised concerns. The investigation is continuing, with further search warrants in play.
“The Sheriff and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office have no intent to do anything other than to conduct a full and appropriate investigation, where race plays no role,” Investigative Services Chief Steve Brandt was quoted as saying in the release. “It is unfortunate that a community organization chose to intervene during an active investigation and start throwing unsupported and false allegations. To make sure everyone’s rights are not being violated and to ensure that all aspects of the case are accounted for, we cannot and will not be rushed to conclude this investigation. This investigation will be based on evidence, not opinion and rhetoric.”
To be sure, the NAACP did not “intervene” so much as express opinions and make claims, as advocacy organizations routinely do. And there was little question, as evidenced by the sheriff’s office’s own pre-emptive release, that the magnitude of the case and the public response to it even beyond the NAACP was influencing the agency’s response.
Hints of opportunism aside, the NAACP’s sensitivity to the issue is not baseless, either: there’s no question that black students in Flagler County Schools were disproportionately disciplined in the recent past, and that the intervention by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2012 brought the matter to a head–with significant progress since then, acknowledged by the NAACP itself and a 2015 settlement.
Ultimately, last week’s case of racist threats is out of the Sheriff’s Office’s hands as it will be State Attorney R.J. Larizza’s decision as to whether and how to file charges against the two students.
In an interview, Sharpe-Matthews today said she was satisfied with the sheriff’s acknowledgement that the investigation had been incomplete, and described the intent of today’s conference in terms different than Josey’s. “The intent today was people wanted to know who Ms Lee was, they wanted to know exactly what her feelings were,” she said. As for the sheriff, “We’re waiting to see what he’s going to do, but we wanted him to know, we the community aren’t sleeping on this.” She said the issue crosses color lines.
mr. wilson says
Guess what? Staly not pushing for charges is called “being on code” ! This is exactly why minorities show up in the system in the numbers they do. People like him, the gate keepers of the revolving door deciding on who gets jammed through and who doesn’t. Not too long ago there was a come to Jesus moment for white social media users who outed themselves for the crimes they committed and weren’t prosecuted for it, think it was called “criming while white”. The fact that black people in the USA have never been in a universal position of power to do the same as those currently in power its pretty hard to get the point across to closed ears and hard hearts.
I think the fact that we know more dirt about two dead, black teenagers, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin than we do all the white shooters combined says a lot. Jane Elliot hits it out of the park in this YouTube clip.
Be careful what you ask for NAACP. You may not like what you find !
this grandstanding ,as the author called ,is a bunch of crap. Sherriff Staly is no racist. The people who ran this so called news conference are just trying to cause trouble. The case is still under investigation, however , they already have made it seem like the sherriffs office have given up , which is false ,they want to make sure that they have a strong case before they proceed.
Michael Cocchiola says
I believe today’s event will help raise awareness of deep-rooted racism in some elements of Flagler County. These students got their racial animosity somewhere. Whether or not their threats were made in jest as they contend, their racism is very real. Our community needs to deal with this. Our schools need to teach about diversity, tolerance and inclusion as earnestly as they teach math and science. Our sheriff’s department needs to deal firmly with incidents like this and send the message that there really is no difference between a serious and a mock threat. Both cause fear and help divide our community.
First off as a member of the FPC staff I’m mostly appalled after learning today that the sheriff is blaming his own deputies of not doing their job or being incomplete when we all know for a fact that day in question those deputies were told to not file charges by their leaders and sheriff . Then they back track the next day to cover that up by actually meeting with Lee then filing charges now today they say due to the deputies incomplete and flawed reporting … they are continuing to investigate .. plain and simple they messed up … they wrote off the matter as “dark humor “ and got caught in it … we love our deputies and feel bad they got thrown to the wolves for sake of political banter and embarrassment ..
Sounds like a lot of political grandstanding to me…which is disgusting, considering that nothing should be allowed to jeopardize an ongoing investigation.
Turning this matter into a grotesque parody isn’t going to teach these students (and other young people) anything of value.
Sit down and shut up says
The FCSO wasn’t acting recklessly, they did a through investigation before accusing and recommending charges. The NAACP is being overzealous and for the simple fact the teacher is black and the accused are white they want the youngsters hung. They are not looking at what qualifies a HATE crime to be a HATE crime. Let law enforcement do their jobs. The racist people of color will forever be racist—it’s sll about superiority and not equality.
“….the rest trending more toward grandstanding than clarity” – grandstanding by the NAACP? What a shock!
Fist of all I want Mrs Lee and our local NAACP chapter to know that I am also very concerned and in support of Mrs Lee pressing charges as hate should not be tolerated anywhere but specially in our schools.
Also I want them to know that our own experience in Flagler County (and up North too) thru the years with our current Sheriff Staly and past sheriffs is that if anyone being a minor, student or adult citizen minority or not uses slurs, insulting name calling or even some terroristic threats using any public means, been told is not prosecutable as per our Freedom of Speech. Sheriff may show seriousness of issue very carefully (specially with minors) in order to arrest, to avoid risk of his agency to be sued for abuse of power and violation of our First Amendment right. Thru out all these years we had some similar incidents in our communities and the only way to “maybe” resolve them is to press charges as a civil matter, which I believe Mrs Lee did next day or so. Law enforcement in this cases, I believe, have their hands tied when it comes to verbal threats if not physical evidence is present. Stiff disciplinary measures in schools for any student violating policy is appropiate considering the latest tragedies taken place. I believe home schooling to isolate the threat if so, is justified. Please correct me if I am wrong as life is a new learning chapter every day…
Born and Raised Here says
Perhaps this case should be turned over to the FDLE, and local out of it.
Looks like a Reverend Al wanna be…. Nothing but a race baiter. The county, state and country has a lot of racial hatred and issues, but grandstanding like this only throws up walls between everyone.
OK…….TAKE RACISM OUT OF THIS SITUATION. WHAT ABOUT THE THREAT OF SOMEONES LIFE. THAT’S A CRIME IN ITSELF. THESE KIDS PLAY THE SYSTEM AND GET AWAY WITH IT, MAKE AN EXAMPLE OUT OF THESE TWO AND OTHER KIDS WILL THINK TWICE ABOUT MAKING THREAT OF THAT NATURE.
I am appalled at the tone of this article and by those claiming this is grandstanding or a parody. Teachers and students deserve to feel safe at school, and as a Flagler County teacher, I can tell you many of us do not feel safe. We were all required to complete an active shooter training this year, and we were assured that if we saw something and reported it, action would be taken. Well, there have been many times when teachers have felt threatened by students, and nothing has been done about it. Almost immediately after this incident was reported, the Lees were told no charges would be filed. They didn’t say the investigation was ongoing and incomplete. Even the resource officers at school were shocked by this. Many of us believe the only reason charges were eventually filed is because the of media coverage and the public outcry. The students and their families have been able to keep their anonymity, but the victims, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, were not allowed to maintain their privacy, which was what they wanted. Read those transcripts again, and ask yourself: If it were you or someone in your family threatened like that, wouldn’t you want complete support from the the district, media, and public? And wouldn’t you want the perpetrators prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law?
Trailer Bob says
I cannot believe one would make the Sheriff the problem here. Regardless of ones skin color, the sheriffs department is not meant to be an organization that lets color of ones skin matter. Stupid story, which only opens up the mind for more racism. In reality, most of the people who talk about racism are racist themselve. Racism: The act of bringing skin color into any and every incident, regardless of facts.
The FCSO filled the correct charges to this incident. They were indirect threats which is a misdemeanor. Now if these kids actually went to this teacher it would be a direct threat which is a felony. Gotta place the charges with the crimes. Lots of opinions people are spewing not actually listening to the facts.
Sheila Zinkerman says
“The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.” To this end the Flagler County NAACP and its leadership under President Linda Sharpe-Matthews acted with due diligence and called the 12/18 Press Conference to address the hate speech of two FPC high school students toward their teacher Kimberly Lee. To be clear, race-based hate speech discrimination against Mrs. Lee, together with their threats of killing her and “no one will care,” cannot, and will not be veiled under the guise of a bad teenage joke because: Kimberly Lee cares, her spouse Travis Lee cares, other teachers and students care, I care, the FC NAACP membership cares, the Volusia County chapter of the ACLU cares, the Palm Coast Democratic Club cares, Indivisible; Women’s March St John’s Facebook care with Notices, and many other fair-minded citizens who courageously “spoke”with their signs and presence at the NAACP Press Conference care. And for those of you who either do not care, or who are indifferent about this repugnant incident, this from Elie Wiesel:
Recent events show that even into adulthood white people are judged more leniently http://www.wbaltv.com/article/dash-cam-video-shows-port-authority-official-cursing-at-officers-during-traffic-stop/20071623 than their Black counterparts https://www.thecut.com/2018/04/chikesia-clemons-assault-waffle-house-video.html
Why are black students disciplined at a higher rate and more severely as compared with their white counterparts given the same disciplinary history? Because despite the narrative that some people have tried to drive, we STILL live in a racist nation headed by DT!
@ Serendipity, Welcome to what many know but can’t speak on. He’ll grandstand when the goings good and now you see what he does when there’s some backlash. A good leader stands behind his men & women right or wrong and takes the lashings along with them and if public opinion is wrong, takes a humble approach with the citizens HE serves at explaining the reasoning. Nothing humble about this approach which is only bound to cause more tension as time goes on.
The truth is probably going to hurt some feelings, soo here you go. Ask yourself this question? if it was you’re kid, would you want this to affect him, or her, black, or white, for the rest of their life, over a stupid decision? Allow parents to put the foot to a$$, without having to worry about the state stepping in, and telling them how to discipline their kids. We are failing badly as a country for allowing everyone to be offended, by everything. Wake up people. We still have some rights, weather the NAACP, the government, or anyone else tells you different. This day, and age, you just have to make sure you know what they are.
weldon ryan says
@lamo-The double standard that exist always treat blacks more harshly using the legal system as its tool. You are ridiculously naive in your statement. Tell me why a 5 or 6 year old have to be Baker Acted or put in cuffs. We know a black kid would be charged to the fullest whereas a white kid with the same act would be treated liter! I don’t know if the stats about school punishments has changed much in the last few years but it had been seriously lopsided. The unity plea is a true desire but it comes with the need for equal treatment under the law. As for Josey he’s a stand up guy having put my life in his hands numerous times up in Harlem.
gerald j smith says
I’ve been physically attacked twice by “people of color” and neither time was the perp charged with a hate crime.Is it because i was white ?
The NAACP along with many other national organizations originally started out supporting human rights and actually stood up for the people of this country. Today these same organizations have no interest in helping human rights of any person other than to bloviate for themselves. The teacher was the only one that had said anything that made sense in her defense. The NAACP people couldn’t care less about this teacher. They were there ONLY because they saw her as an avenue for them to spew their racist rhetoric.
No wonder staley states that crime is down in Palm Coast. He doesn’t charge anyone !!!!
If we are talking about double standards. Who stands up for a white teacher? If a white teacher stopped going to work, they would be terminated. A white teacher, could not even get a lawyer to touch a civil suit, much less win. I am all for being treated equal, but seems like that’s not going happen any time soon.
weldon ryan says
We talk about our own personal experience with racism as white or black, but look at actual statistical empirical evidence that shows a body of evidence of what people of color have experienced in this country. C’mon white people! Black and brown have been the punching bags of American abuse. Your response as a whole is so Freudian. Denial is a human response that White America as a whole cannot shake! And the give back regarding justice though narrow have been rescinded systematically. The zero tolerance destroyed many thousands of black and brown young men and women in school while allowing their white counterparts a pass. Unity cannot begin until equal treatment under the law is given. I am a proponent of restorative justice but where do we begin. Even if two young white children are held accountable for the hateful death threats they made! This means that we have equality within the frame work of the law.
Upon first hearing about this mess I was enraged. I was disgusted by how those students were speaking and I fully stood against them. But after a few days passed and I asked my son (who graduated from FPC in 2018) about what he thought, he really opened my eyes. He said kids today talk like this and don’t see it as a “big deal”. He showed me a few posts on instagram where saying “n*****” was funny to teens. I was shocked by this but even more shocked when he told me even he says stuff like this to his friends. At that moment I took a step back and re-evaluated my opinion on this topic. I would feel awful if my son was being put through what those two students are going through, especially if they truly didn’t mean what they said and were joking about it. I pray that Mrs.Lee and whoever is working on this case can forgive these KIDS for their mistakes and be able to see where they are coming from.
Sheila Zinkerman says
When parents decide to vaccinate their children, it benefits a community of children. Likewise, when parents
decide to speak to their children about race, it benefits a community of children. There are several credible studies that show how parents can unintentionally influence their child’s race-bias by what they say, what they don’t say, and who they socialize with. The information in the study below may help parents understand the dynamics on how a child can become race-biased and hateful. I also encourage interested parents to view Harvard University and other organizations that have studied this issue.