A two-year-old TikTok video of Pleasant Valley students in which a white student pretends to kill a student in blackface has resulted in a lawsuit that demands a jury trial.
A Bettendorf family, represented by Cartee Law Firm, PC, of Davenport, has filed a lawsuit against the Pleasant Valley School District and its leadership, alleging they did not take action.
The suit was filed Jan. 18, 2022, in Scott County Court. It names the district, the board of education, Superintendent Brian Strusz and High School Principal Darren Erickson as defendants. Plaintiffs are Louis Brown and Monisa Holton-Brown, listed as parents of a minor child who is Black and is a student at Pleasant Valley.
Read the lawsuit here:
“We are aware of the lawsuit, but cannot comment on pending litigation,” Strusz told Local 4 News on Wednesday.
The suit refers to a 38-second video posted in January 2020 to TikTok by two white students – called Student 1 and Student 2 in the lawsuit – both enrolled at Pleasant Valley.
Student 1 is in blackface, defined by Merriam-Wester as “dark makeup worn to mimic the appearance of a Black person and especially to mock or ridicule Black people.”
Student 2 is depicted as striking Student 1 with some kind of club until Student 1 falls down. Student 2 continues to hit Student 1 while Student 1 appears to pick up white material from the ground and put it in a bag.
Music plays in the background with lyrics such as “I don’t like n——,” along with other “foul, offensive, hateful, racist and explicit lyrics.”
At one point, Student 2 has what appears to be a hockey stick in his hands held like a gun and “shoots” Student 1, who falls down face-first. Student 2 turns to the camera, smiles and laughs and gives two thumbs up.
The suit alleges the video was posted on social media, and was brought to the attention of staff and administration at the school.
Numerous students complained to Erickson and Strusz about the video, the suit says. The plaintiffs say administration did not inform parents about the video’s “disturbing existence, the proliferation of the video throughout the school and the student population, or the complaints they had received regarding the video from numerous students.”
The video was posted again Dec. 7, 2021. On Dec. 8, Strusz emailed parents in the district that the school was aware of the video’s reposting and recirculation, the suit says. Strusz acknowledged the video was “racist and “abhorrent” and acknowledged the “harmful impact (the video) has on (its) students, families, and community,” the suit says.
Neither Student 1 nor Student 2 has been suspended, expelled, or removed from the district, the suit says. Also, no further communication has gone out to students or parents of the district, the suit says. Also, “Defendants have not imposed any reasonable consequence whatsoever on Student 1 or Student 2.”
The parents say their student “has been and still is in fear of physical contact which a reasonable person would deem insulting or offensive.”
“Student 1 and Student 2 were enrolled at Pleasant Valley High School in January 2020 and are still enrolled and attending Pleasant Valley today,” says the suit. “Student 1 and Student 2 continue to roam the halls of Pleasant Valley High School unchecked.”
The students “have continued their bullying behavior at the school,” the suit says. “The Defendants actions, and/or failure to act; have allowed the bad actors, Student 1 and Student 2, to flaunt their immunity from their actions, causing continued severe emotional distress.”