Refugee Valedictorian Silenced as she Lists Names of Black Teens Shot by Police
A high school valedictorian had her microphone shut off during her graduation speech at a Texas high school Saturday after reading off the names of black teens killed by police in recent years.
Rooha Haghar, an Iranian refugee with a strong sense of social justice, read off the names of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown.
Although Martin was not killed by a cop, many people – including Haghar –view his killer as a cop wannabe who was protected by a racist criminal justice system, no different than the cops who killed Rice and Brown. The three shooting deaths sparked weeks of protests throughout the United States.
But the principal of Emmett J. Conrad High School can be seen on video motioning to cut off her microphone. The principal played it off as a technical issue but the crowd knew what happened and cheered for Haghar.
Besides, he earlier had forbidden Haghar from mentioning those names because he believed it was too political.
Haghar immigrated to the United States when she was 12 fleeing religious persecution, which instilled in her a deep respect for the First Amendment and why she was surprised she was silenced.
This is how Haghar explained it to NBCDFW:
I never expected to be silenced. The consequences I was expecting to face was them holding my diploma or having a conversation with my principal.
I never expected them to not allow me to finish, because at the end of the day, schools want to raise socially conscious students, students who are able to think for themselves. That's what I was doing.
Haghar stated on Twitter that her principal removed a few of the names from the list beforehand because he did not want to make the speech political but she decided to read them anyways.
A week before the speech Haghar read her speech to her teacher who quickly criticized it.
Haghar posted the following on Twitter.
"When I first read my speech a week ago, I was told mentioning those names will incite anger towards white people, a group which according to him experience high levels of discrimination in America.
He said the speech became too political when I listed Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown's names, mind you the two lines before that talk about mass school shootings and religious persecution(not too poliitical?)
He advised me to take that line out completely. I didn't.
In the same post she wrote that the principal wanted it to be removed because it is sending a message that "you will get shot if you are black in America."
They met once more on the day before graduation, but he was unable to change her mind.
"The day of graduation, I had a choice to make. Do I read the censored speech in the binder or speak the words I had originally written? I knew none of the consequences I could possibly face came even slightly close to what the families of the victims have to live with on a daily basis.
I chose to read my original speech, and the mic was cut off as soon as I mentioned Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice. I knew the risk I was taking but never expected to be silenced."
Haghar also defended her speech saying innocent children being murdered is not a bipartisan issue but a product of a failed system that has normalized death to the point where names are forgotten within weeks.
"I don't have any regrets and if it took me not being able to finish my speech, then so be it," Haghar told The Hill.
Haghar has not been further punished but the school is looking into what transpired.
Below is the section of her speech she was reading before her microphone was cut.