A Texas public school district has called off a controversial assignment that featured a political cartoon collage comparing police officers to slave owners and Ku Klux Klan members, following outrage from parents and law enforcements groups.
The cartoon in question was distributed as part of an 8th grade social studies assignment at the Wylie Independent School District (ISD), which is located in Collin County, northeast of Dallas. The five-panel cartoon shows the progression from slave ship captain to klansman to modern-day police officer, all pressing their knee into the neck of a black man who is saying “I can’t breathe,” an apparent reference to George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody.
8th grade teachers in a school outside of Dallas, TX (@WylieISD) gave students a home work assignment comparing police officers to slave owners and the KKK.
This is abhorrent and disgusting, and only further widens the gap between police officers and the youth in our community. pic.twitter.com/ELfbjWQu9Z
— Joe Gamaldi (@JoeGamaldi) August 20, 2020
The assignment was given in a Cooper Junior High social studies class where students were learning about the Bill of Rights, and the cartoon was intended to educate them on political satire, a Wylie ISD spokesperson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, noting that the cartoon, which was not approved by district officials, was chosen by an unnamed teacher.
Wylie resident Amber Jennings told the Star-Telegram that she didn’t think it’s appropriate for teachers to hand out material like this to 8th graders.
“Don’t indoctrinate our children to think this way,” Jennings said, adding that she has taught her two kids to respect their elders, including police officers, and expects them to develop their own opinions about police officers without anyone forcing it on them.
The graphic came to the attention of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who denounced the assignment, saying that comparing police officers to the KKK is “beyond unacceptable.”
“It’s the opposite of what must be taught,” Abbott, a Republican, wrote on Twitter. “The teacher should be fired. I’m asking the Texas Education Agency to investigate and take action.”
The governor’s comment came after Joe Gamaldi, vice president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, sent a letter to the school district demanding an apology and the removal of the cartoon, which he called “abhorrent and disturbing.”
“We are willing to sit down with anyone and have a fact-based conversation about our profession,” Gamaldi wrote in the letter. “But divisiveness like your teachers showed does nothing to move that conversation forward.”
The school district quickly withdrew the cartoon from the assignment, saying in an apology that they were “sorry for any hurt that may have been caused through a social studies lesson that included political cartoons that reflected negatively on law enforcement.”
David Fitzsimmons, the Ohio-based cartoonist who is responsible for the controversial cartoon, wrote in an op-ed on Arizona Daily Star that his cartoon “diagrams historic roots of our systemic racism.”
“I’m impressed the National Fraternal Order of Police is directing its fury at an illustration revealing how our present horrors are mere echoes of our cruel past,” Fitzsimmons wrote. “Perhaps it requires too much moral courage, or honest clear-eyed reflection, for the National Fraternal Order of Police to funnel their fury at the few racist police officers who disgrace their oath and their badges by disproportionately murdering African Americans.”