Five teenage boys recently found themselves in trouble with the law after it was discovered that they had spray-painted swastikas, the words “WHITE POWER” and “BROWN POWER,” and other vulgar images on the walls of the Ashburn Colored School, a historic black school in Ashburn, Virginia.
The boys, three of whom are “of a minority class,” have received a surprising sentence after pleading guilty to destruction of property and unlawful entry. A statement from Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman describes the sentence as follows:
‘The five will each be required to visit the United States Holocaust Museum and “The Day of Remembrance: The 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066” exhibit at the American History Museum. They will also be required to write one book report per month for the next twelve months from an approved list provided to them…The teens will also be required to write a research paper explaining the message that swastikas and white power messages on African American schools or houses of worship send to the African American community as well as the broader community, which includes other minority groups…Finally, each teen must listen to a recorded interview of Ms. Yvonne Neal, describing her experiences at the Ashburn Colored School.’
Alex Rueda, the Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney who decided the boys’ punishment, explained to The Washington Post that she saw the situation as a “teachable moment.”
‘It really seemed to be a teachable moment. None of them seemed to appreciate — until all of this blew up in the newspapers — the seriousness of what they had done.
‘So it really seemed to be an opportunity to teach them about race, religion, discrimination, all of those things.’
Plowman gave an explanation similar to Rueda’s in his statement about the sentence.
‘It became very apparent to us as we reviewed the facts, and their statements to detectives, that these kids truly did not appreciate the significance or the meaning of what they were drawing on the building. It also became obvious to us that their motivations had nothing to do with bigotry or hatred toward any class of people. Because of this, we are seizing the opportunity to treat this as an educational experience for these young men so they may better appreciate the significance of their actions and the impact this type of behavior has on communities and has had throughout history.’
Deep Sran, founder of the Loudoun School for the Gifted, which owns the building the boys defaced, said that he approves of the sentence, particularly because the boys are required to listen to an interview with a former student of the school — Yvonne Thornton Neal, who attended from 1938 until 1945.
Sran said about this particular portion of the sentence:
‘We thought it would be good to really understand the story of Ms. Neal and the local community and why it was so important to them.’
Other specific requirements for completing the sentence include reading “The Beautiful Struggle” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and “Night” by Elie Wiesel, as well as books by Afghan author Khaled Hosseini and black authors Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.
Members of the community have banded together to help correct the damage that was done to the school by these five boys. More than $70,000 was raised with the help of a GoFundMe page, and Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder contributed $35,000 more.
Featured image via Facebook.