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Martin County NAACP president 'not surprised' by racist photo created by students

'To come up with an idea like that, there's something else going on,' Jimmy Smith says
Hidden Oaks Middle School in Palm City, Florida
Posted at 3:28 PM, May 18, 2022

PALM CITY, Fla. — The Martin County School District is still deciding what type of punishment six students will face for spelling out a racial slur on a school campus.

School leaders tell WPTV that the six students involved will definitely face disciplinary action, and they're working as quickly as possible to determine what it will be.

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said Wednesday that his department has finished its investigation, and there will be no charges filed since no crime was committed.

At the same time, several members of the Black community said this incident opens old wounds from decades of mistreatment, specifically in Martin County.

RELATED: Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons condemns racist photo

The disturbing and offensive photo was taken on campus at Hidden Oaks Middle School in Palm City.

The image shows six students holding up 3D letters, spelling out a racial slur while on the school's campus. Racial stereotypes were also painted on each letter.

Blurred picture of Hidden Oaks Middle School students holding letters spelling racist slur
This blurred photograph shows students at Hidden Oaks Middle School holding letters spelling out a racist slur.

WPTV is choosing to show the photograph in question but is blurring the images of the students' faces and all but the first letter of the word.

The picture quickly spread across social media, catching the attention of NAACP of Martin County president Jimmy Smith.

"It might seem like it's funny or might just be kids. No, we have all made mistakes," Smith said. "But when you get to that degree, to come up with an idea like that, there's something else going on."

Smith called the photo shocking but quickly added he was not surprised.

"What I mean by, 'I'm not surprised.' I've been here since 1962," Smith said. "Palm City was a place that we weren't allowed to cross the bridge to go to."

NAACP of Martin County president Jimmy Smith, May 18, 2022
NAACP of Martin County president Jimmy Smith shares his thoughts on the racist photo taken outside of Hidden Oaks Middle School.

He cited Palm City's challenging past with race, reflecting on a time when schools were segregated in South Florida.

"In my time, 1976, we had the biggest fight with the Ku Klux Klan, and I was in the school," Smith said.

The school district said they're appalled and saddened by the actions of their students.

"An innocent art project was unfortunately taken to a different level by some students who made an extremely poor decision," school district spokeswoman Jennifer DeShazo said.

Each letter was supposed to represent an initial in their name, but the students used the letters to spell out the racist word.

"We're still trying to gather specifics on how some of the letters that students created came about, considering it wouldn't necessarily be part of their name," DeShazo said.

Martin County School District spokeswoman Jennifer DeShazo
Martin County School District spokeswoman Jennifer DeShazo explains that the students created the letters in the photo during a school art project.

School leaders said the investigation could take another 24 hours to complete.

"We have already started investigations, and we have already started administering discipline according to the code of conduct because we do take it seriously," Martin County Superintendent Dr. John D. Millay said.

Smith said he's staying patient in the meantime.

"When you see an investigation like they do all around the country. There's always a process," Smith said.

It's important to note that the school district must adhere to due process standards and the student code of conduct as they complete this investigation.