An estimated 50 to 100 people carried posters and shouted "Black Lives Matter" as they marched on Monday afternoon from Saint Francis High School in Mountain View to the corner of El Camino Real and Castro Street. They were marching to express opposition to the racist actions of students at the private Catholic high school and call on the school's administration to discipline them.
While many carried posters and signs and shouted chants that could have come from any of the many local protests that have been initiated in response to police violence, this protest was in response to an incident closer to home.
Current and former Saint Francis students have been tied to an Instagram account that posted a racist image making fun of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25.
The image, as indicated in a Change.org petition demanding that the high school discipline the students, refers to Floyd with a racial slur and makes fun of his appearance.
As of Monday evening, the petition had gained more than 3,900 signatures.
The school investigated the students affiliated with the Instagram account and found additional incidents of racist behaviors, according to Jason Curtis, the high school's president.
The students involved face "serious consequences," Curtis said in an interview. He declined to say what those consequences were, citing privacy concerns for minors.
He confirmed that one of those incidents had involved the use of blackface.
Blackface has a long history of being used to mock African Americans in dehumanizing ways.
A group called "Concerned Parents – Black Lives Matter" created an event on Facebook to organize the march, calling on attendees to show the school's administration that such actions will not be tolerated.
One of the protest's organizers, Alicia Labana, is African American and a parent of a Saint Francis student. She said she wants the school to take a stronger stand in penalizing the students involved, including one or two students she said appear to be current students, based on online sports rosters. The school has so far only publicly attributed the actions to recent graduates in statements on the school website.
A student of color at the high school who attended the demonstration said that he was protesting because he didn't want the actions of other students to "misrepresent what we stand for," said sophomore Bola Erogbogbo. He said he's experienced racist comments from students at school, in the context of locker room talk that gets out of hand.
Mohamjit Jolly was marching with his family members, who were there in to support friends of his daughter that attend the high school. The family chose not to send their children to Saint Francis because they were told that racism was a problem at the school, he said.
Jolly said he lived in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots. "In the last several decades, that nothing has changed is a travesty," he said.
Jolly, who works in venture capital and is Sikh, said he experienced his own incident as the victim of racism a little more than a week ago in Palo Alto when someone flipped him off and told him, "Go back to where you came from."
Quam Erogbogbo, a parent of a student, said he participated in the protest to highlight that what the students did was unacceptable, and to work on changing the school. The incidents represented an opportunity for the school to become a more conducive place for students to develop empathy, he said. He said he also wanted the school to be more transparent about what disciplinary actions it was taking against the students involved in the racist incidents.
Another parent, who asked not to be named out of concern for repercussions against the student, said that her student had experienced incidents when some white classmates – not all – would not speak to him or her unless they needed to, would ignore him or her, or would otherwise be unfriendly.
She said she also hoped that the school would find ways to foster more diversity and inclusion among parent groups.
In a statement to the St. Francis community acknowledging "the overt acts of racism and misogyny that transpired within our community this week," school administrators pointed to some of the things they've already enacted, and plan to roll out in the next school year.
Over the past school year, the school has created a new Social Justice, Equity and Inclusion program with student, teacher and parent input.
In the fall, administrators plan to audit the school's curriculum, implement an anti-bias curriculum and create an ethnic studies graduation requirement. They also plan to put in place hiring practices to recruit and hire a staff whose demographics reflect the diversity of the Diocese of San Jose.
Chaplain Tony Mancuso marched with the students, as did Curtis, the school's president.
Peace and justice have long been goals of the Roman Catholic faith, Mancuso said, citing a speech from Pope Paul IV in 1972. "If you want peace," he said, "work for justice."