Superintendent calls on DA to charge “Shorewood Spitter” with hate crime

Students+and+administration+stand+on+the+steps+of+the+high+school+getting+ready+for+the+press+conference+on+June+8.+In+the+press+conference%2C+superintendent+Dr.+Bryan+Davis+called+on+the+Milwaukee+District+Attorney+to+elevate+Stephanie+Rapkin%27s+charges+to+a+hate+crime

Ethan McKaig

Students and administration stand on the steps of the high school getting ready for the press conference on June 8. In the press conference, superintendent Dr. Bryan Davis called on the Milwaukee District Attorney to elevate Stephanie Rapkin’s charges to a hate crime

In response to a Shorewood woman spitting on a Shorewood High School student protester at a march on Saturday, June 6, the school district held a press conference to address the incident. On the high school’s front lawn on Monday, June 8 at 8:00 am, superintendent Dr. Bryan Davis addressed a crowd of news cameras and community members with a group of students, school board members and administration behind him. 

“This morning, we call on the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office to approve a hate crime enhancer for the upcoming charges against Ms. Rapkin,” said Davis.

The call made by the school is in response to the actions of Stephanie Rapkin, a 64-year-old white lawyer and resident of Shorewood, who spit on Eric Lucas III, 17-year-old Shorewood student and protester. Video shows Rapkin refusing to move the car that she parked on Oakland Avenue in a failed attempt to stop the march of over 2,000 people when she then turns and spits on Lucas. 

The protest was completely peaceful, and Rapkin was arrested later that night at 10:12 pm, but according to a press release regarding the arrest, “due to the Milwaukee County Jail’s current policies pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to take her to the Milwaukee County Jail.”

Though the police department did not say in the report that she was released, she was arrested the next day, June 7, for a battery assault outside of her home. Video shows Rapkin outside of her home as the victim of the battery assault, who was also recording, asks her about the spitting incident the day before. She then demonstrates what she alleged Lucas did, and pushes the person recording. Rapkin was arrested later that day, and in the process she resisted, kicking an officer in the groin, according to a press release regarding the arrest. Rapkin was then, unlike the day before, accepted into custody by the Milwaukee County Jail. 

On the school lawn, the press conference featured statements by Davis, Lucas, school board president Paru Shah and State Representative David Bowen. 

Davis explained why he called for Rapkin’s charge to be labeled as a hate crime.

This was not only a disorderly behavior. This was a racial hatred aimed at disrupting a peaceful demonstration, and it cannot be tolerated, ”

— Dr. Bryan Davis, superintendent

“This was not only a disorderly behavior,” Davis said. “This was a racial hatred aimed at disrupting a peaceful demonstration, and it cannot be tolerated.”

Lucas’s statement expressed his disappointment at Rapkin’s attack.

“Again and again, I am viewed not as a child, but as a color,” Lucas said. “A color that destroys and does not uplift and love. I am disappointed in feeling unloved by individuals I’ve done no harm to.”

Hiwot Schutz, junior and one of the organizers of the protest, spoke at the press conference about the racism she faces in Shorewood.

“I do experience racism and microaggressions almost on a regular basis,” Schutz said. “This week I witnessed two of my black peers be verbally and/or physically attacked. And I want everyone to watch those videos, and realize that racism still inhabits this community and we really need to work on that, as a community and as a school.”

Shah talked about steps the school board has taken, and the process that is still going on, to make Shorewood a more equitable place. One thing they’ve been trying to accomplish is making a curriculum that promotes equity and addresses racism and other systemic oppressions.

“Last year, we spent three months developing a strategic plan to address this inequity in our schools,” Shah said at the press conference. “And with students and the community [we] developed three solutions: a social justice curriculum that promotes equity by addressing racism, sexism and adultism, and other forms of systemic oppression; creation and implementation of anti-racist pedagogy across the district; addressing the culture of fear that has prevented classroom teachers, school administrators and district leaders from addressing issues of inequity and justice in our schools.”

The seven mile long march on Saturday started at Atwater Park and marched north on Lake Dr. into Whitefish Bay, continuing through Whitefish Bay until returning to Shorewood via Oakland Ave. The incident with Rapkin occurred as the march was returning to Shorewood. Ilijah Taylor-Jordan, junior, was near Lucas when he was spit on by Rapkin. 

“The spitting came right when we were about to end the march, because we were in front of Metro [Market] and we were heading back to Atwater beach,” Taylor-Jordan said. “It was just toward the end, so it wasn’t a big factor of the day, because we kept marching after.”

Overall the day went better than expected. Bowen estimated nearly 5,000 people in attendance, which organizers and many participants didn’t see coming. 

“We didn’t expect as many people to join,” Taylor-Jordan said. “It was a beautiful experience, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Bryan Terry Jr. sophomore who spoke at the march, thinks the protests message got across successfully. 

“There were a lot of great speeches, and we made sure our voices were heard, so overall I’d say it was really successful,” Terry said.

The incident with Rapkin showed the kinds of obstacles that the organizers and leaders of the protest will have to face as they continue to lead movements like these. Bowen saw the ability of the youth leaders to get up from confrontations, like the one with Rapkin, and move on.

I think the opposition that they faced that day is a reflection of the real opposition that they will have when you speak out,”

— David Bowen, state representative

“I think the opposition that they faced that day is a reflection of the real opposition that they will have when you speak out, when you organize together, when you get a chance to lead on an issue that has been plaguing us for quite some time,” Bowen said. “They’re not afraid to deal with these real life situations. You are dealing with people’s fears and anxieties and emotions, and I’m proud of the young people for how they handled the situation, and for the work that they did.”

“As Eric was getting spit on, I was getting spit on as well,” Taylor-Jordan said. “Though we were both mad, we can’t react on our anger, because if we reacted on our anger, then everything we were fighting for … would’ve been for nothing.”

Terry feels that the incident turned the spotlight from a protest of thousands of people organized by high schoolers, to one person who didn’t like the protest. 

“Not only was it wrong for her to spit on Eric and assault him, but [Rapkin] also put that attention on herself,” Terry said. “On the news lately, it’s been more so what she has done rather than what the high school students have done.”

As for legal action against Rapkin, Bowen expects her legal license to be revoked. But he also wants to see accountability beyond Rapkin, to see change in whole communities.

“It’s beyond her. She is a representation of a larger population and contingent of people that live in the southeastern Wisconsin community, and Wisconsin community, in this country, that have views that say ‘I would rather have the status-quo, I like things where they are, and I don’t want change.’”

According to the press release regarding Rapkin’s second arrest, “The Shorewood Police Department will be seeking charges of Battery, Disorderly Conduct, Battery to a Law Enforcement Officer, and Resting/Obstructing an Officer.” The school district looks to support Lucas and his family in their charges against Rapkin.

“What our role is, is to help advocate for Eric and for all of our students, in this case for Eric specifically, and recommend, as the District Attorney is reviewing charges, recommending that it be viewed as a hate crime, because we believe that was the context of which the situation occurred,” Davis said.

Rapkin can be heard, in the video of the spitting incident, saying that Lucas touched her, although it is clear in the video that Lucas did not touch her. 

“[Rapkin is] a lawyer. It’s safe to say that she knew better, engaging in assault with a minor, and lashing out at other people as well,” Bowen said.

Lucas, who calmly continued to march after the incident with Rapkin, explained at the press conference what his family’s intentions are behind the charges.

“Our family harbors no hate, but does request the justice prompt and appropriate,” Lucas said. “Again, injustice anywhere is a detriment to justice everywhere.”