Racist rhetoric disrupts two Black students’ comments during council

An unknown Zoom attendee spewed racial slurs at students requesting a yurt for their school.
3 min. read
Denver’s City Council chambers. Feb. 24, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Two Black elementary school students were subjected to hateful and racist rhetoric during City Council’s general public comment session on Monday by an unknown Zoom attendee.

The two young girls from Monarch Montessori in Montbello were asking City Council members for help in procuring a yurt for their school when an unknown person on Zoom interrupted the meeting and told the girls to “go back to Africa.” The person continued spewing more insults and racist slurs for about 30 seconds while City Council members could be heard asking moderators to step in and mute the person.

The person was eventually ejected from the video call.

Several councilmembers went down to the podium to stand behind the students and console them.

The older student was visibly upset and unable to continue giving her speech. She was led from the room by Councilmember Shontel Lewis.

The younger student continued their plea for the yurt that would create more space for students. The student said the school has experienced an influx of students and in order to accommodate everyone, the yurt would be transformed into a music room. The current music class will then be converted into a regular classroom.

After the student finished, Council President Jamie Torres condemned the unknown person’s actions.

“I want to extend an apology,” Torres said. “I want to thank you for being here first and foremost and for sharing your commentary. I want to apologize for what we heard and I want you know…that everyone in this room is a support system and we would never acknowledge or authorize that kind of language in this chamber.”

In a statement, Torres added the “words were vile, as was the character of a person who would actively seek to say these words to two beautiful and courageous young girls.”

“Speaking at the Denver City Council brings nervousness to adults every week, and these youth gathered the bravery to bring their voices to their City Council representatives to improve their school and community. We honor and praise these two young voices and condemn anyone who would attack them and any other member of our community,” Torres wrote.

Robert Austin, the council's spokesperson, said the Technology Services team is currently investigating how the person was able to speak during the meeting. Typically, an event producer runs the meeting and unmutes people when it is their turn to speak. Austin said the producer tried several times to mute the person before ejecting them from the meeting.

Austin said the team has also not been able to identify the speaker. Their IP address shows as being from the Netherlands, which Austin said the team suspects isn’t accurate.

Austin said the primary concern is to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

After the meeting, Austin said several councilmembers and Council’s Executive Director Bonita Roznos spoke with the girls about the incident.

Austin said he’s not sure what council will do regarding the students’ request “but efficiency and decreasing wait times in the permitting process has been something the council has asked of the administration in a variety of forums.”

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