Op-Ed: NAACP Firing Back at SPS Over Garfield Investigation

by Gerald Hankerson 

The King County NAACP wrote an open letter to the Seattle Public School District responding to what we feel has been a continued mishandling of their investigation into alleged recruiting violations involving Garfield High Head Football Coach Joey Thomas.

Mr. Thomas continues to be tried in the court of public opinion by our media that instead of delving deeply into the authenticity of claims against Thomas, has treated only one side of the story as gospel.

The letter is as follows:

We write this letter to express our outrage over the vindictive allegations targeting African-American coaches, staff and administrators in the Seattle Public School (SPS) District.

We view the recent investigation of the Garfield Football Team and Coach, Joey Thomas as an internal witch hunt and retaliation for the team exercising their first amendment rights to kneel during the National Anthem last year. We are also aware these investigations have escalated to now accusing WIAA of a cover-up, even over unfounded claims.

Throughout this entire investigative process, the NAACP has witnessed relentless public persecutions of African-American coaches, staff and administrators, being orchestrated by your agency to publicly diminish their credibility and undermine their positive impact, both in school as well as our community.

These practices are indicative of an agency that has a long history of disparate treatment of African-American employees. As I’m sure you’re aware, current Dept. of Justice (DOJ) investigation into SPS determined: While African-American students were suspended 4 to 5 times more than their White counterparts…., SPS’s own data shows that Staff of Color are also disciplined at a much higher rate than that of their White counterparts.

Please know, at the first scheduled investigative meeting between the hired investigator and Coach Thomas, NAACP representatives were denied participation at the meeting, citing alleged youth privacy concerns. However, several hours later, the accusations were publicly reported by nearly every news outlet in Seattle.

Did your same youth privacy policy concern not apply to Seattle Times reporter, Claudia Rowe? This flies in the face of your very own Community Engagement Smart Goal Policy, and further proof of an internal witch-hunt initiated by SPS administrators, who hide behind others to shield their own racist motivations to influence these biased investigations.

As the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP takes these matters very serious as we consider this a major civil rights issue. Over the past several years, Seattle/King County NAACP has worked directly with Seattle Public Schools to identify and suggest much needed changes to address the systemic racism in SPS; most recently re-instating an African-American elementary administrator who was denied equal treatment compared to a similarly situated white elementary administrator.

Unfortunately this egregious behavior continues, and we are deeply disappointed in your ability to root out the institutional racism that exists within your agency. Following our own probe in this matter, we believe we can identify individual SPS administrators responsible for these retaliatory investigations of SPS African-Americans staff.

As Superintendent, we are calling on you to intervene and interrupt these vindictive claims, by looking inward to address the scope of hatefulness being carried out by those who currently work for you. We also request to meet with you to discuss this matter in hopes of repairing the inflammatory damages being inflicted on African-American staff, who are also leaders in our community.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Gerald Hankerson is the President of the Seattle King County NAACP

Featured image is a Wiki Commons photo