The photos that appeared this weekend on social media from a party in Orange County have sparked widespread outrage and disgust.
Some teens are shown with arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. Red plastic cups are arranged in the shape of a swastika.
On Monday, school officials, students and local leaders in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa were grappling with how to respond to the viral images. They condemned the actions but also urged the community to use the moment to learn.
“There is no place for hateful symbols of swastikas and Nazi salutes in our community,” Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said on Twitter. “We need to seriously address why teens in our community might think these types of hateful symbols are acceptable or funny & worthy of selfies.”
In a statement, Foley said that she “discouraged the vilification of these teens. Instead, we need to seriously address why teens in our community might” behave this way.
As jarring as the photos were, Jocelyn Navarro, a junior at Newport Harbor, said she wasn't surprised when they surfaced on Snapchat and Twitter on Sunday morning. Not by the red cups arranged in a swastika. Not by the arms outstretched in Nazi salutes. Not even by the gleeful expressions worn by the high school students hoisting them.
"Every one of them was laughing," said Jocelyn, 16. "They all had smiles on their faces."
At Newport Harbor, she said, students group themselves along racial lines: Latino students with other Latinos, whites with whites. It is less intentional than unconscious, she said: "White people stay together, Mexicans stay together. We naturally just do it because we know that's the way it is."
Josdel Hernandez, a junior at Newport Harbor, said she has seen incidents of more casual racism at school: A student doodling a swastika on a desk, for example, or cracking a joke about Nazism.
Josdel, 16, said ignorance is no excuse for the anti-Semitism displayed at the weekend party. The students depicted in the photos are juniors like herself, she said, and just last month they studied the Holocaust in history class.
"They showed us graphic videos of the concentration camps," she said. "It's not like our teachers need to show us anymore about the Holocaust. They knew what it means."
The frustration was mixed with disbelief.
“I find it just reprehensible that we still have pockets of our community that still think this is OK,” Martha Fluor, vice president of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board, said in an interview. “This is unacceptable behavior both from a health standpoint with potential underage drinking as well as from a moral and ethical position.”
“This has no place in Orange County,” Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) said on Twitter.
Some district students planned to wear blue on Monday to show solidarity with the Jewish community.
The school district is investigating the incident and said discipline is possible for those involved.
Some of the people in the images are believed to be students or recent graduates of Newport Harbor High School, one official said. The other high schools in the district are Costa Mesa, Estancia, Early College and Corona del Mar.
The photos were apparently taken this weekend at a party not affiliated with the school system.
“I am heartsick and disgusted seeing kids in our community engage in anti-Semitism,” Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) tweeted.
Congressman Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) added in a statement: “It doesn’t matter whether or not they thought it was funny. When we joke about Nazism, its history loses meaning — and we cannot forget that history. These students must learn that hate has consequences, and their parents and our school district must redouble their efforts to teach them.”
The Anti-Defamation League runs several educational programs in Orange County schools, but not at Newport Harbor High School, said Rabbi Peter Levi, regional director of the organization’s Orange County chapter.
“The goal is not to be reactionary when a school has such a horrific incident, but to be constantly talking with young people about hatred, about bias, so that the students themselves would’ve never let this happen,” Levi said.
Nazi salutes are never jokes, Levi added, and treating them as such normalizes bigotry and helps lay the foundation for much bigger problems, including violence against Jewish people.
A forum is scheduled for Monday night at Newport Harbor High School to discuss the events.