By Noe Herrera
SACRAMENTO, CA – Late last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), released an email “welcoming” an investigation on a hate crime against Elysse Versher, a Black assistant high school principal who was enforcing mask regulations amid the COVID-19 epidemic.
And, former Black Lives Matter Sacramento “lead” and founder of Liberate Black Sac Now Sonia Lewis, a former teacher with SCUSD, who said she also experienced “racial hate and trauma” during her tenure with the district more than a decade ago, quickly condemned the attack.
Versher told The Sacramento Bee that she was made aware of racist comments against her online on Nov. 5 after enforcing the school’s mask policy. She also said her family was receiving threats through email.
Versher later discovered graffiti on her parking spot. She said to ABC10 news, “I walked to where my assigned parking spot is and saw the ‘n-word’ five times – five times.”
Versher stated, “This had nothing to do with the dress code but an opportunity for students to see that a Black woman has the audacity to make non-Black students uncomfortable and inconvenienced by enforcing the dress code. (It) has been around forever and has been enforced by my white colleagues without incident for quite a long time.”
Just last week, Versher was admitted into the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center after experiencing stress-induced seizures from the traumatic events. According to ABC10, the Sacramento Police Department and the Sacramento City Unified School District are both investigating the incidents.
Basim Elkarra, the executive director of CAIR in Sacramento, said in a statement, “We welcome the investigation and are disturbed by the harassment targeting Ms. Versher, a faculty member who was upholding a required dress code of masks for the safety and health of students and faculty.”
CAIR is the largest Islamic civil liberties group nationwide and is “committed to protecting the civil rights” and “opposes domestic policies that limit civil rights, permit racial, ethnic or religious profiling,” according to their website.
Former district teacher and activist Lewis said, “racist terrorism/hate speech wasn’t the first occurrence at Hiram Johnson West Campus HS, nor was it the first time it was directed towards Dr. Versher, and nor was it the first time it was reported to the principal of the school and the school’s district.”
Jorge Aguilar, the Sacramento City Unified superintendent, released a video message saying “to make all of our schools pro-social learning environments that stand against racism and hatred, our efforts must impact every aspect of our organization, and flow from our boardroom to our classroom…racism and racist language are deplorable, and hurtful to our entire community of students and staff, especially when directed at specific individuals.”
Lewis had stronger words.
“Even though SCUSD leaders were swift in making statements standing against racism and hate within the district, your statement and subsequent actions have continued to FAIL Black students, families, staff, teachers, and administrators…we cannot trust that your words beyond them being performative, as no substantial change has occurred to this point,” she said.
Referring to the board’s president’s statement, “Rest assured that the district will fully investigate this matter,” Lewis shot back: “Black people have never been able to rest; in fact the Black community in Sacramento, in California, and nationwide have lived in a perpetual state of stress directly associated with acts of racism, racialized harm/trauma/oppression and racist terrorist attacks.”
Lewis added, “To this point, no investigation has been enough, press statements/releases have not been enough, and campaigns within the district speaking to a non-tolerance of racism have not been enough. The Black community cannot rest knowing that Black students and parents, staff, teachers, and administrators are not safe on SCUSD campuses due to the history of racism in America.”