Vandalise school with racist graffiti? Read a book, says judge

Volunteers painting the exterior of the Ashburn Coloured School in Virginia last October after five teenagers sprayed racist and anti-Semitic graffiti on it. The dilapitated, one-room 19th-century schoolhouse had been used by black children during se
Volunteers painting the exterior of the Ashburn Coloured School in Virginia last October after five teenagers sprayed racist and anti-Semitic graffiti on it. The dilapitated, one-room 19th-century schoolhouse had been used by black children during segregation. In an unusual sentence, the judge ordered that the five read books addressing some of history's most divisive and tragic periods.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

After five teenagers defaced a historic black schoolhouse in Virginia with racist and anti-Semitic graffiti last year, a judge in the United States handed down an unusual sentence.

She endorsed a prosecutor's order that they read one book each month for the next 12 months and write a report about it.

But not just any books: They have to address some of history's most divisive and tragic periods.

The teenagers can read Night by Elie Wiesel, to learn about the Holocaust.

They can crack open Maya Angelou's landmark 1969 book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, for an unsparing account of the Jim Crow South.

They can also dive into The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, a captivating tale about two boys from Afghanistan.

Those books were among the 35 works of literature that judge Avelina Jacob ordered the unidentified teenagers, all aged 16 or 17, in Loudoun County to choose from earlier this month after they pleaded guilty to spray-painting the Ashburn Coloured School.

The dilapidated, one-room 19th-century schoolhouse had been used by black children during segregation.

The teenagers' sentence, known as a disposition in juvenile cases, also includes a mandatory visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington and the Smithsonian's American history museum's exhibit on Japanese-American internment camps in the US.

The graffiti sprayed last September on the building in Ashburn included swastikas, dinosaurs, sexual images and the phrases "brown power" and "white power".

Two of the teenagers are white and three are minorities.

They each pleaded guilty to one count of destruction of private property and one count of unlawful entry. At least one of the teenagers said he did not know the symbolism of a swastika.

Deputy commonwealth attorney Alejandra Rueda came up with the idea and said that it was the first time she has assigned a reading list as part of a disposition.

"It occurred to me that the way these kids are going to learn about this stuff is if they read about it, more than anything," she said.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2017, with the headline 'Vandalise school with racist graffiti? Read a book, says judge'. Print Edition | Subscribe