Principal Temesghen Asmerom described it as a “technical difficulty” to the students, staff, and family members who had gathered together for the Emmett J. Conrad High School graduation in Dallas last Saturday.
But a video, which has now gone viral, appears to tell another story. Just after valedictorian Rooha Haghar mentions “Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and all the other children who became victims of injustice” in her speech, Asmerom gestures toward his throat and gives a thumbs up to someone in the audience.
Haghar’s mic then goes silent.
“My valedictorian speech was cut short because I said the names of black children who had become victims of police brutality,” Haghar wrote in her caption of the video, calling the silenced mic “pathetic.”
The 19-year-old top student had intended to include their names in earlier drafts of the speech and said she got pushback early on. In a statement she posted on Twitter, Haghar said a teacher told her mentioning Trayvon and Tamir’s names “will incite anger towards white people, a group which according to him experience high levels of discrimination in America.”
That teacher deemed their inclusion “too political,” Haghar said, noting that he didn’t have a similar concern about her mentions of school shootings and religious persecution.
Haghar said she met with Asmerom about the speech prior to delivering it; he also advised her to strike the names, saying they were against Dallas Independent School District’s valedictorian speech guidelines. Later, Asmerom suggested amending the line so it read “to all the children who became victims of injustice,” Haghar said, so it would cover more children.
“When I asked him why, he said it would be sending the wrong message to the graduating students, that message being ‘you will get shot if you are black in America,’” Haghar wrote.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Haghar said she didn’t think Asmerom had a problem with her speech. In a conversation with Asmerom the day before the graduation ceremony, Haghar says he told her speaking out about Trayvon and Tamir’s deaths wouldn’t change anything until she was in a position of power.
“His intentions were not rooted in hate, but him saying that me mentioning those names won’t make a difference is something I disagreed with,” the University of Texas-bound graduate told the Post. “I told him how some of us won’t ever have a position of power, so to just sit there and wait is the wrong mindset to have.”
Trayvon Martin died at the hands of an armed vigilante, George Zimmerman, in 2012 in Florida. He was just 17 years old. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy from Ohio, was shot and killed by a police officer while he was playing with a toy gun in 2014.
Dallas ISD said it is investigating the incident. Asmerom has yet to speak publicly about the speech. Of course, the grand irony here for Asmerom and Dallas ISD is that by cutting off Haghar’s mic, they gifted her a much bigger platform.