Hundreds of students, activists and community members gathered outside of Prior Lake High School Thursday afternoon. They staged a peaceful protest supporting a student of color who was allegedly targeted in a racist video posted on social media earlier this week by a fellow classmate.
High school students were dismissed early from class around 12:45 p.m. ahead of the protest.
Nya Sigin, who has identified herself as the alleged target of the video, publicly condemned the video and thanked all her supporters for showing up and voicing their concerns and stories.
"I am 14 years old. I am a child. I have had to deal with racism in my city for as long as I can remember," said Sigin during the protest. "I am so thankful for everyone showing up. You don't understand how much this means to me and my family. This is where we can create real change."
Sigin also took to her Instagram account on Thursday to express her gratitude for the outpouring of and love and support from people across the nation.
"Everyone who came up and spoke, shared your experiences with racism, discrimination and all-around utter hate from the people around you just because of the color of your skin, touched every single one of our hearts, around the country," Sigin stated. "The bravery you all had to come out and share your stories is so inspiring to so many people and I really hope you know that. Thank you everyone who has supported me."
During the rally, several students from PLHS and surrounding districts, shared their personal experiences with racism and said they plan to attend the next Prior Lake-Savage Area School Board meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 22, to demand the students involved in the video be disciplined.
"I was the first person to post the video on Instagram. When I posted it, I didn't expect all that attention. I just wanted it to reach something or someone," said Dago Abebaw, a supporter of the protest. "The things in the video are very vile. Hearing things like that, especially at a young age, is very damaging and it sticks with a person. When someone is telling you to end your life and calling you the 'N' word, that's hurtful. This isn't something she's going to go to bed at night and forget about. This is going to affect her the rest of her life. The words you say to people matter, your actions matter and what you do matters."
The video features a teen girl, who district officials have identified as a PLHS student, repeatedly saying racial slurs and encouraging the target of the video to take her own life.
Achai Deng, Sigin's cousin and a sophomore at PLHS, said she wanted to help organize the protest because Sigin is family and she has also experienced personal racism.
"What happened in that video is not right and it should never happen again. No one ever should have to go through that at all," Deng told the Prior Lake American. "Nya has beautiful dark skin like chocolate. That's my little sister, she's just beautiful and she's such a nice person. It's sad to see what happens to good people. Me and her used to talk about our situations being dark skinned and it's just sad to see."
A GoFundMe, which was widely shared by civil rights activist and journalist Shaun King, has now reached over $100,000.
On Thursday, local city and school district officials held a press conference at Savage City Hall.
Savage Police Chief Rodney Seurer, who described the video as "horrific," "hateful" and "racist," said detectives were continuing to conduct follow-up interviews as the department works with the Scott County Attorney's Office on the investigation.
"This is not tolerated here," Seurer said.
During the press conference, Superintendent Teri Staloch declined to comment on the enrollment status of the students involved in the incident, citing the pending investigation.
"I understand the desire for consequences and [to know] what happened to the person — and that will come out," she said.
PUBLIC OFFICIALS RESPOND
Statements from public officials condemning the video continued to filter in on Thursday.
"As a historically welcoming community, the racist and hateful video shared this week on social media hurt us as a whole," Savage Mayor Janet Williams said in a statement Thursday evening.
"Our school resource officers and detectives are working with the PLSAS school administration, the Sioux community and Scott County Attorney’s office to thoroughly investigate this matter and take appropriate action," Williams stated.
Additionally, Williams highlighted the city's work in hosting Community Conversations on Race events for the past three years and recently forming a Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force to advise the Savage City Council on issues of racial equity.
"They will have a significant role in building a stronger community," she wrote. "We will work with our partners to talk about race and destigmatize mental illness as Nya asked us to do!"
Prior Lake Mayor Kirt Briggs released a statement Thursday afternoon, denouncing racism and stating that the community has important work ahead.
“The video does not reflect the values of our Prior Lake community. And yet, we must acknowledge that it originated here, and that there is still important work that needs to be done,” Briggs said. “We need to advance open conversations on racism to better understand one another and our experiences. This is the only way to create a path forward to strengthen and unite us.”
State and federal lawmakers have also responded to the video.
Minnesota Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake) released a statement Thursday afternoon.
“The sentiments stated by the student in the video are absolutely not indicative of our community’s values, and the student should be held accountable for her actions. I grew up in this community — I’ve raised my family in this community, and this display of harmful rhetoric is not indicative of the values of the community I know and love," Pratt said. "All students deserve to be supported in times of need, and I am hopeful that Prior Lake High School will take the steps necessary to hold the students involved accountable for their actions. We have to teach our kids to do better.”
On Twitter, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig called the video horrific.
"I’m proud to stand with Nya," Craig wrote. "Racism has no place in our community, and no one should be subject to this kind of harmful and bigoted rhetoric. We must not accept this behavior in our communities."
Reporter Christine Schuster contributed to this report.