A teenager is suing her New York school for refusing to publish a poem about George Floyd’s death, according to court papers filed Tuesday.
The New York Post reports Ruby Ray, a 16-year-old sophomore at Vandermeulen High School on Long Island, and her family have filed a $2 million notice of claim against the school in Suffolk County Supreme Court. Ray, who is white, says she wrote “Derek Chauvin’s Ode to George Floyd: A Dark Sonnet” and submitted it to her school’s literary magazine for publication, but officials turned it down.
“I thought this was a free country and you have the right to express yourself in any way you choose,’’ Ruby told the Post. “That’s not the case in the Port Jefferson School District.”
Ray said she wrote the sonnet from the perspective of the former Minneapolis police officer who pinned Floyd, a Black man, to the ground during an arrest on May 25, 2020. Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter last month after kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes, killing him.
“I bring justice here, pressed upon your neck / If I decide, you now face certain death / A fate deserved, ‘cuz you passed a bad check,” Ray’s poem said. “You can’t breathe? Then cease your black man drama / I will make you weep for ‘Mamma! Mamma!’”
The Post reports English teacher Matthew Sefick, faculty advisor for the predominantly white school’s The Mast magazine, allegedly told Ray he didn’t want to publish it “because of the political aspect” and a lack of a “back and forth discussion.” Principal Eric Haruthunian agreed, allegedly telling Ray on Monday that the school would not publish her poem.
According to the Daily Mail, Ruby’s father John Ray, a lawyer, accused the school of being “racist” in its decision.
The family’s notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, also accuses Sefick, Haruthunian and the district of blocking the poem “in order to please, protect, promote, placate and defend white racism in Respondents’ school and community, and white racism in general.” The notice says the Port Jefferson School District is 79% white and less than 1% Black.
The family also claims Ray’s First Amendment right to free speech is being violated.
The district declined to comment on the pending litigation, according to the Post.