Vandals painted a cryptic acronym generally regarded to be derogatory to Alaska Natives on an outside wall of Juneau-Douglas High School late Thursday night.
A school custodian noticed the graffiti, which wasn't visible from the street, around 10:30 p.m., said Assistant Principal Dale Staley. By mid-morning Friday, the three phrases had been painted over. School administration and police said they didn't know exactly what the graffiti had said, but red letters several feet high that showed through one of the patches of paint read: "KAN'S BACK!"
The meaning of KAN varies depending on whom you ask. JDHS sophomore Troy Tangney, 15, who says he knows the vandal, said it stands for "Kids Against Natives." Officer Paul Comolli of the Juneau Police Department said he's also heard the acronym stands for "Kids Across the Nation" or "Kill All Natives."
"Here at the high school, we're very concerned about it, whatever it means, because some of our students believe that it is derogatory and we can't tolerate that," Staley said.
KAN has been popping up around the school for just the last few weeks, scratched into bathroom stalls and scrawled on classroom desks and chairs, he said. Police say they believe it is related to violence between students that recently has occurred at the cemetery near the school.
Tangney said a friend of his told him he was planning to paint the graffiti earlier in the week.
"I think it's dumb. Everybody should just be friends," he said.
Junior Jeffrey Osborne, who is Tlingit, said he had not heard of KAN until some students brought it up earlier this month at a youth meeting at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall.
"I try not to pay attention to it. I can't stand racist people," Osborne said.
Osborne and several of his friends said they experience bad treatment they believe is racially motivated from some students, but that it tends to be the same group of people.
Comolli said he has heard of more fights going on lately in the cemetery. But it's often difficult to distinguish truth from fiction in the rumor-ridden haze of high school society. Staley said students were talking on Friday about a fight that had allegedly occurred during lunch, but it turned out to be just a couple of students raising their voices at each other.
Comolli said white and Native teenagers fought Thursday in the cemetery. He heard of a fight last week involving a Native nonstudent who sought out a white male student he thought had racist views.
"If people respond with hatred and violence to try to fix hatred and violence, it spirals out of control," Comolli said.
Leilani Knight-McQueen, youth and family leadership specialist for Tlingit-Haida Central Council, said fights do happen. She was careful not to characterize them as gang-related, but said there was increasing organization among students.
"My bigger concern is that, while I can meet with the Native kids and the Native crew responds, who is defusing the white crew? While I'm defusing the Native kids, who's over there telling (the white kids) not to be violent?" Knight-McQueen said.
She said it's important to promote community rather than division.
"We're supporting a healthy, safe environment for everyone," she said.
Staley called the graffiti "unfortunate."