Photo of student holding gun, N-word sign incites outrage: 'The issue of racism is very real'

Elise Solé
A South Carolina teen with a gun and a "We hang N****** for free" sign escaped criminal charges. (Photo: Getty Images)
A South Carolina teen with a gun and a "We hang N****** for free" sign escaped criminal charges. (Photo: Getty Images)

Police won’t press charges against a teen who held a gun and a sign that said ‘We hang n****** for free’ in a Snapchat photo, but the school is considering expulsion.

The photo of the unidentified Hillcrest High School teen in Simpsonville, South Carolina was re-posted on Facebook, shocking thet community. “That student is old enough to know better,” a former Greenville County resident, 21, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Being of mixed race myself, this makes me mad as hell.”

Rev. J.M. Flemming, the president of the Greenville Branch of the NAACP recommended that Greenville County Schools expel the student.

“We are saddened to hear of a racial attack on blacks by a white student in Greenville County Schools,” Flemming told Fox Carolina. “This shows the issue of racism is very real since this youth was not born during times of civil rights era then racial hatred is embedded.”

“As the Greenville NAACP, we are working to address the rising spread of racial and religious hatred in this country and especially in Greenville County,” he said. “This racial incident brought to light on April 30th is one of many racial incidents but most are not reported in the media. Greenville County must be open to tell the truth about racism and continue dialogues on racism and its side effects. The Greenville NAACP is very supportive of Public Education but this racial attack is at the Expulsion level of the School District’s Zero Tolerance Policy. We are waiting to see the District’s response and stand ready to be a part of any conversation.”

A spokesperson for Greenville County Schools tells Yahoo Lifestyle it saw the photo on Tuesday morning and called the police. “The student was told to stay at home during the investigation for her safety and for the safety of the students at school. Extra officers and district personnel went to the school to assist administrators. Students who were upset by the post were directed to school counselors.”

The student was suspended through the conclusion of an upcoming expulsion hearing.

A representative of the Simpsonville Police Department tells Yahoo Lifestyle that criminal charges aren’t suitable. “During the course of the investigation, the Simpsonville Police concluded there were no credible threats to any students or staff at Hillcrest High School,” says the spokesperson. “That determination was not based on the inappropriateness of the photo, and the determination is in no way an indication the Simpsonville Police are excusing the photo. Rather, the determination was based on evidence compiled in the investigation, including understanding the intent of the student; the role of Simpsonville Police is determine if a criminal act has been committed.

“The criteria for criminal charges are different from the criteria for determining that a photo is inappropriate,” the spokespoerson said. “Once the Simpsonville Police concluded there were no credible threats, the photo fell under the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, and although the photo and content of the photo are inexcusable, the First Amendment protects free speech, even speech that people find abhorrent.”

Showing a gun in a photo, police say, is fair under Freedom of Speech.

On Wednesday, the police wrote in a press release, “As with any situation the Simpsonville Police Department encounters, the safety and well-being of all students and staff are of utmost importance. Extra personnel were placed at the school after officials were made aware of the post to provide added protection. We are currently working with the Greenville County School District to resolve any safety concerns related to this incident.”

The student in the photo and her family members did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment.

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