Why 10 Students Were Suspended For Posting This Photo Online

During a physical altercation between two students, a principal was photographed restraining one female — and 10 students were suspended for posting the photo along with inappropriate comments on social media. And now a California high school is wading into complicated waters. 

The incident took place at Pittsburg High School, located just northwest of San Francisco. Principal Todd Whitmire told a local news outlet that the photo of him was taken while he was breaking up a struggle between a 15-year-old female student and another male who refused to stop fighting.

The photo shows Whitmire holding a black female who appears distraught, as if attempting to breathe. It's easy to see why some interpret the picture as a white male choking a young black female, and others see a man simply restraining a student during a bustle of commotion in the background that very easily could have been a fight. The now-viral image, like many things, is open to multiple interpretations.

Ashley Johnson, the female in the photo, claims she was slammed into a wall by the male, and was not fighting back when Whitmire grabbed her. Ashley was seen wearing a neck brace on Tuesday while being interviewed.

After the altercation some 10 students were suspended for posting the picture on social media with some form of an inappropriate, possibly racist, caption. Students told local KTVU that they thought the suspensions were unwarranted because the use of social media constituted an exercise of free speech. In their view, posting the picture, regardless of the comments elicited, was their legal and personal business.

Principal Whitmire said that monitoring social media is routine at most schools, and confirmed that he suspended the students for the inappropriate captions, not because he wanted to censor the picture's release.

Were the 10 suspended students exercising free speech, or did they deserve the punishment meted out by the principal? Weigh in below.

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Alexander de Avila

Alexander is a Political columnist at PolicyMic. He is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College's school of Government, focusing his studies on international politics and the impact of emerging technologies on government and war. He has experience working at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and as a research assistant at TSKB in Istanbul exploring alternative energy sources.

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