A New Jersey high school teacher has been suspended after he was recorded calling George Floyd a criminal in a profanity-filled rant during class, school officials said.
Video shows Howard Zlotkin, a 61-year-old teacher at William L. Dickinson High School in Jersey City, railed against Black Lives Matter and Floyd during an online landscapingclass on April 28.
“I hear people whining and crying about Black Lives Matter but George Floyd was a (expletive) criminal that was being arrested,” Zlotkin, who is white, said in video obtained by WNBC-TV.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was recently convicted of Floyd’s murder, which set off months of protests worldwide calling for an end to police brutality last year. Floyd, who was Black, died last year after Chauvin pressed his knee on his neck for more than nine minutes.
Zlotkin told the high school students that Floyd was killed “because he wouldn’t comply with police” and that didn’t make him a hero, according to WNBC.
Zlotkin was suspended without pay on April 29, and information about the incident was sent to the Jersey City Public Schools District legal department, according to a statement provided to USA TODAY by deputy superintendent Norma Fernandez. Zlotkin has been teaching in the school district for 21 years.
“The District is appalled at the teacher’s unbecoming behavior and unprofessional outburst,” according to the statement. “His views do not represent the Jersey City Public School District’s focus on equity and the embrace of diversity.”
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Zlotkin was also suspended pending an investigation at Hudson County Community College, where he is an adjunct professor. In a statement, the college called Zlotkin’s comments “offensive and derogatory” and said his behavior violated the school’s anti-harassment policy.
Zlotkin told the New York Times that he could not comment in detail due to the investigation but that he would “love one day to give my side of the story,” calling the footage a “very well-edited sound bite.”
Timmia Williams, one of the students in the class, told WNBC that Zlotkin appeared to target Black students during his rant and that Zlotkin assigned an essay to four Black students.
The New York Times reported that the students were assigned to write about “why Black lives should matter.”
In class the next day, Zlotkin expressed anger over Williams refusing to write the essay.
“You know what, Timmia, don’t worry about it,” Zlotkin said in a second video obtained by WNBC. “You’re full of (expletive), too.”
Williams’ mother told the station that her daughter cried about the incident.
“She came to me, tells me, ‘Mom why is it there’s a problem with my skin?'” Williams’ mother told WNBC.
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Mussab Ali, the Jersey City Board of Education president, announced on Facebook that Zlotkin was suspended amid an ongoing investigation.
“The comments made by this individual are not representative of our district or our city,” Ali said in a Facebook post on Friday, noting the board passed a resolution last June declaring racism a public health crisis following the murder of George Floyd.