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NAACP stands by leader slammed over comments at critical race theory rally

The Fairfax County, Virginia, NAACP said “let them die,” referring to ideas that harm teachers. Critics took it to refer to parents who oppose school diversity efforts.
Image: A Virginia School board meeting reflects a battle playing out across the country over a once-obscure academic doctrine known as Critical Race Theory, in Ashburn
Shelley Slebrch and other angry parents and community members protest after the school board halted a Loudoun County School Board meeting in Ashburn, Va., on June 22 because the crowd refused to quiet down. Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters

The Fairfax County NAACP is standing by its first vice president after she faced backlash from conservatives and was even asked to resign from the Virginia Parent-Teacher Association after she was heard in a video saying “let them die,” a comment some felt was aimed at parents at a rally opposing critical race theory.

In a statement to NBC News, Fairfax NAACP officials said the first vice president, Michelle Leete, was condemning harmful right-wing politics in her speech at the July 15 rally, in which protesters both for and against equity initiatives faced off just before a Fairfax County Public Schools board meeting. NAACP leaders said Leete’s intent was “abundantly clear when you consider the entirety of her speech, instead of simply the last seconds of it.”

“We stand firmly by our 1st Vice President and her work in the past, present and future, and are extremely disappointed that her long track record of tireless work and dedication within the Fairfax County community has been so easily disregarded and devalued,” the statement reads. 

A group of protesters, including parents, demonstrated outside Luther Jackson Middle School to oppose diversity efforts in the schools. Another group, which included Leete, soon showed up in a counterprotest, and Leete delivered her address.

“Let’s deny this off-key band of people that are anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-equity, anti-history, anti-racial reckoning, anti-opportunities, anti-help people, anti-diversity, anti-platform, anti-science, anti-change agent, anti-social justice, anti-health care, anti-worker, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-children, anti-health care, anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-admissions policy change, anti-inclusion, anti-live-and-let live people. Let them die,” she said. 

Backlash to the comment was swift. Conservative social media users quickly began condemning Leete online and the Virginia PTA announced on Saturday that it had requested and received Leete’s resignation. Leete had served as its vice president of training. 

She told CNN that she was speaking in her capacity as Fairfax County NAACP’s first vice president and believed the counter rally was simply to support students at Fairfax County Public Schools. 

“I will certainly admit, it was ineloquently stated and with a pause for the applause, the timing was off, but ‘Let them die’ was referring to the ideals that show a disregard and lack of support for our teachers who have a truly difficult job to do even without a pandemic,” she told CNN. 

Leete did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News. After news spread of her departure from the PTA, some parents said they hoped the NAACP would fire her. 

“In the days following the rally we have received many hate-filled emails, phone calls, and social media posts, which have been laced with racial epithets, vile language and threats,” NAACP officials continued in the statement. “These messages only highlight the fact that racism and sexism are alive and well, and those who practice it will use any minor infraction or misspoken word to justify their own prejudices and actions."

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