COMMENTARY: Hoodie-Wearing Teacher Needs to Explain Himself

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  • I don’t know if high school teacher Spencer Smith was trying to make a serious political statement by mimicking Trayvon Martin for a yearbook photo – or if he thought wearing a hoodie and holding a bag of Skittles was just a joke. If it was supposed to be a joke, it wasn’t funny.

    If the snapshot was designed as some sort of social declaration, then say so. Smith, a teacher at Heritage High School in Brentwood, California, has caused a great deal of controversy in his community for imitating Martin, who was tragically shot and killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in 2012.

    Zimmerman was acquitted of the shooting. Without hearing directly from Smith, I believe his decision was inappropriate and insensitive. I’m all for free speech, after all, I am a journalist, but I also feel that Smith should have shared his reasoning before taking the photo so folks don’t have to wonder about his intentions.

    Smith is not a student; he’s a teacher, which means he is also supposed to lead by example. So what’s the lesson here for students at Heritage High School?

    He’s doing the students, teachers and parents a disservice by remaining silent. Perhaps Smith had a valid reason for posing for the yearbook snapshot. Who knows? Some parents, however, thought Smith’s photo was “inappropriate.”

    One mother, who didn’t want to be named, said: “This is supposed to be capturing the best moments of the year. And all positive things.”

    But some students support Smith. Alfreda Charway, president of Brentwood Heritage High School’s Black Student Union, called it “a good idea because he’s expressing himself.” “Because that’s the whole point of yearbook pictures, you’re supposed to express yourself,” Charway told a local television station.

    “[It was] ok that he did it, just not in the yearbook,” said Amber McKim, a sophomore at the school.

    Trayvon’s Martin’s heartbreaking death is not a joke and should not be mocked. Although told to stand down by police after reporting Martin as “suspicious” Zimmerman followed the teen and confrontation ensued. He shot Martin in the heart, saying he felt threatened by a slim, good-natured 17-year-old carrying a bag of Skittles.

    Acquitted on all charges by a Florida jury, to this day Zimmerman has not expressed one ounce of remorse for killing Trayvon Martin.

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