DOWNINGTOWN, Pa — A young abolitionist is facing a backlash this week after a video he posted online documenting an altercation with assistant principal Zach Ruff led to Ruff being placed on administrative leave.
The video, filmed by 16-year-old abolitionist Conner Haines, depicts the Downingtown STEM Academy assistant principal and dean of students accosting him and his sister, 19-year-old Lauren Haines, as the pair stood outside the school with anti-abortion signs last Friday. When Ruff’s aggressive behavior in the video came to the attention of the school, he was placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation into the incident.
“We do not condone or support the conduct expressed in the video and are deeply disappointed that this incident occurred,” a statement on the school’s Facebook page read. “His conduct does not represent the values of the school district or the respect we expect our employees to show for the civil rights of others.”
However, hundreds of students, parents, and alumni have not only come to Ruff’s defense, but have gone on the offense, leaving thousands of comments on Conner Haines’ Facebook wall, as well as on other platforms where the video was posted. Many claim that Ruff’s behavior toward the teenagers was entirely warranted and that he was only trying to protect students from the abolitionists. Some have accused the abolitionists of blocking traffic, banging on car windows, and creating a safety hazard. All available footage of the incident, however, shows the abolitionists standing peacefully well away from traffic, and raising their voices only enough to be heard by passing drivers.
Comments ranged from mild to threatening. Some commenters merely defended Ruff’s character. News sources covering the event, such as the Pennsylvania NBC affiliate, included many of these supportive comments in their coverage:
Others resorted to name-calling and extreme vulgarity:
Some accused the Haines of hoping to provoke a reaction:
Some of the more extreme comments encouraged violence be done against Haines:
While others suggested suicide:
Many of the commenters ironically insisted that teenagers ought to be protected from what they called “harassment”, as they flooded Haines’ page with vitriolic remarks.
Patricia McGlone, the school’s Director of Public Information, told the Liberator the school has a policy against cyber-bullying and would address instances of students engaging in it. “We certainly don’t condone cyber-bullying,” she said.
Regarding the abolitionists’ presence at the school, McGlone said, “The sidewalk is public property and we certainly protect freedom of speech.”
Though several commenters insinuated that the Haines’ targeted Ruff intentionally, Conner Haines contends that he did not know who Ruff was, prior to the incident.
“I had no idea anything about STEM or [Ruff] before Friday. I wasn’t even planning on going to STEM. We were on our way to Downingtown West because they had a holocaust symposium and I thought it would be a great idea to engage that high school on that day.” He told the Liberator he and Lauren saw buses, and students exiting the school, and simply took advantage of the opportunity to engage them.
He said he did not wish to provoke hostility, but only spark conversation. “I was not trying to make any one mad I was simply standing out there holding two signs when Mr. Ruff came out,” he said. “At that point I wasn’t even talking to anyone. I was literally just standing there.”
Watch the full unedited video, below.