A photograph of five all-white, high-school students wearing T-shirts with a controversial statement printed on it was posted to the internet, creating a huge uproar in their community, as well as in the local Pennsylvania school district to which they belong. The white T-shirts worn in the photograph contained the words “White Lives Matter” in large, black letters across the front of them. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “White Lives Matter” is a neo-Nazi affiliated hate group. The photograph also depicted one of the students making a derogatory hand gesture towards the camera. Anonymous members of the community have reached out with comments, some of which have identified the students photographed as belonging to the Montgomery Area High School in Montgomery, Pennsylvania. Another student of the same school posted the photograph to the social media site, Snapchat. The photograph was posted with a caption that read that it was one of the grossest things they had ever seen in the area and that they felt the students were only acting that way to be racist and upset people.
It appears that the students were punished by the school and released from school early on the day that the photograph was brought to the attention of the school authorities. A source has expressed their feelings on the disciplinary action taken and has stated that the students were minimally punished. The source stated that the students were only sent home from school on the last day but were still allowed to attend the school prom, The source also expressed concern that some of these students were seniors who would be representing the school and the town publicly. When initially contacted for comment, the Montgomery Area High School principal, the members of the local school board of directors, and the superintendent of the school district were unresponsive.
An anonymous source commented that the small town had a history of allowing incidents of racism to go unresolved and that the senior classes at the school were so small with no more than sixty kids per year. That meant that in such a small city like Montgomery, Pennsylvania, people tended to fall in line to avoid being treated differently. Other anonymous sources have called the town “very right-wing” and “conservative-Christian oriented.” Other community members have chosen not to remain anonymous and have made comments publicly. A former student and 2003 graduate of Montgomery Area High School, Barry Hill Jr. said he recalled rallies being held in the early nineties that promoted white power. Another resident, Sherry Lee Havonbrook stated, in an open letter she wrote to the local paper, The Williamsport Sun, that she was ashamed for the town and felt bad for those affected by the incident, and disgusted by the actions of the students. Her letter, which was posted online, received numerous racially charged comments on the news outlet’s website. Other Montgomery residents have spoken out to express their concern about the issue and have called the situation one of ignorance on the part of the students photographed. They also communicated their hopes to see change within their community and to hopefully foster an environment where, in the future, racism would not be allowed to go without being unaddressed.