This story will be updated as new information becomes available.
Northwest is “look(ing) into” a video circulating on Twitter that depicts two girls who appear to be mocking the incident that killed George Floyd May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd facedown on the ground and pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.
The incident in Minneapolis has sparked protests ranging from peaceful to riot-like in more than two dozen major cities across the United States, where protestors have often chanted the phrase, “I can’t breathe,” — the phrase Floyd repeated to Chauvin while pinned underneath him in Minnesota and the same phrase incoming Northwest freshman Piper Zentner yelled, laughing, in the video posted to Twitter May 29.
In an email to The Missourian, Zentner offered no comment on the video but said that she was working with her attorney on a response. A follow-up email was not returned and Zentner has not yet offered her attorney-drafted response.
In the video, which was first screen-recorded from the private Snapchat story of Holland Easterla, Anneliese Aherns is positioned on top of Zentner, with one of her knees placed on top of Zentner’s chest in an apparent reenactment of the incident that killed Floyd earlier in the week. All three girls are recent graduates of Lee’s Summit High School, according to tweets in reply to the video. The video’s caption reads, “Aw ging can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe,” Zentner said while laughing in the video as Aherns pushed her left hand onto Zentner’s forehead. “I can’t breathe! Stop.”
The video, first posted to Twitter at 11:06 a.m. May 29, had garnered close to 3,000 retweets and more than 600,000 views by 5:30 p.m. May 30. Northwest’s official Twitter account has replied to the original post and three subsequent repostings of the video in the last 24 hours, essentially repeating the same message in the four separate tweets.
“As Bearcats, we value civility and will look into this,” Northwest tweeted in its first response to the original post at 3:02 p.m. May 29.
As Bearcats, we value civility and will look into this.— Northwest Missouri State University (@NWMOSTATE) May 29, 2020
In an email to The Missourian, Clarence Green, the University police chief and the Northwest’s vice president of culture, said Vice President of Student Affairs Matt Baker and Provost Jamie Hooyman were “leading the institutional review.” Hooyman and Baker, along with several other University officials, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
All three girls in the video have made-private their Instagram accounts and changed their usernames, while at least two of them, including Zentner, have deleted their Twitter accounts. Zentner’s Instagram, where “nwms ‘24” used to be displayed in the account’s biography section, has now been renamed, cleared of all posts and remains private. The account’s biography section is empty.
The original video and subsequent postings have accumulated dozens of replies calling for the three recent graduates to be barred from attending their prospective universities. Easterla and Aherns were set to enroll at the University of Missouri and Missouri State University, respectively, this fall. It’s unclear if any of the graduates will attend those schools as scheduled.
“Thank you for letting us know,” Mizzou tweeted back to the original post, less than three hours after the video was first posted. “We are aware of the video and have submitted the details to the appropriate offices.”
The University’s twitter account later clarified that the information was submitted to Missouri’s Office for Civil Rights and Title IX.
“We are aware of the video,” Missouri State tweeted first at 5:11 p.m. May 29, becoming the last of the three universities to publicly respond. “The university does not condone treating the loss of human life with disrespect. We are handling this privately through disciplinary channels.”
The Lee’s Summit School District confirmed the video included three recent graduates in a tweet and condemned the actions depicted in the video.
“LSR7 is aware of a video featuring recent graduates circulating on social media, and is investigating this matter further,” the school district tweeted at 6:17 p.m. May 29. “To be clear: actions or behaviors that mock issues of racism, discrimination and intolerance are unacceptable and are not condoned by LSR7.”
The video caught the attention of former Lee’s Summit Superintendent Dennis L. Carpenter, who resigned from the district last July after his proposal of racial equity training for all employees within Lee’s Summit predominantly white district was met with criticism from the school board and resulted in threats against Carpenter. The first black superintendent in the district’s history, he served two years before being effectively ousted by angered parents and board members.
As the former @LSR7 school supt I’m extremely disappointed to see these 2020 @LeesSummitHS graduates taking part in this culturally insensitive act. Maybe community support for racial equity training wouldn’t have been such a bad thing after all! #BlackLivesMatters #GeorgeFloyd https://t.co/fx6OnLaa3I— Dennis L. Carpenter (@EquitySupt1) May 29, 2020
“As the former @LSR7 school supt I’m extremely disappointed to see these 2020 @LeesSummitHS graduates taking part in this culturally insensitive act,” Carpenter tweeted May 29. “Maybe community support for racial equity training wouldn’t have been such a bad thing after all! #BlackLivesMatters #GeorgeFloyd.”
The video surfaced on Twitter as racial tensions boiled over across the country, with protests increasing in frequency, size and violence throughout the U.S. still less than a week after Floyd died in police custody.
The video’s quick, widespread circulation and the ensuing, repeated response from all three universities helps illustrate the urgency in which institutions are handling race-related issues amid the increasingly-tense political climate. Together, the three universities had combined to tweet 100 replies to different accounts regarding the video by 5:30 p.m. May 30, clarifying that their respective universities were aware of the situation. Northwest accounted for four of those replies.