Controversial Image In Final Exam Stirs Anger In Dayton

Published: Jan. 6, 2016 at 5:04 PM PST
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It's an image which immediately offends many. So what was it doing in a high school final exam?

The original artwork was painted by Michael D'Antuano in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case. It is an intentionally provocative statement on the issue of racial profiling, intended, the artist has said, to challenge people and create public discourse.

But its depiction of a police officer wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood pointing a gun at a young African American boy has sometimes instead left anger and racial tension in its wake.

In August 2015 in Detroit, for instance, it was used in a flier apparently by white supremacists with the headline 'Get The Blacks Out!' In fall of 2015 it was apparently used to lead a discussion of slavery in a US History course at Dayton High School. Then recently it showed up on the final exam.

Dayton resident Brian Nelson says he learned of it as he quizzed his 17-year-old son about his final grade.

"He said there were some pretty disturbing images on the final that he felt pretty strongly about and he wasn't really sure how to answer them. What was described to me was that the students were supposed to write about what the artist was trying to portray in the image."

That's a difficult question for many, especially those coming from a family with a law enforcement background.

"Professional law enforcement has been suffering from a tarnished image which has been portrayed by the media," says Nelson, "and it's been increasing over the last several years. There's a number of reasons for that, but this was just another attack on their integrity and it has no place in the classroom."

Much of the initial reaction played out on social media. The host of the talk radio show Armed Nevada Radio, who broke the story, says some of the anger was directed at him by students defending the teacher.

A complaint to Facebook, he says, resulted in him being banned from access to his own page for 24 hours.

Lyon County School Superintendent Wayne Workman says he only learned about the issue January 5, 2016. He quickly took to the district's own Facebook page to issue an apology which read in part, "We understand the offensive nature of the image and regret that it was used."

Workman would not confirm that the teacher--who had taught at the school since 2013--had been fired, citing personnel privacy issues. He did say the district was taking appropriate action. Nelson says all that is up to the school district.

For the record, he says discussion of slavery is highly appropriate in a U-S history course, but this image is not.

"I doubt there are very many people who can draw any meaningful relation between that image and U-S history or slavery in any way."