A sophomore on the Santa Monica High School wrestling team says that, on May 4, he walked into the school’s wrestling room and saw the team’s brown practice dummy with a noose around its neck. As this same student, who happens to be black, headed for the locker room, he was approached by two of his team members who, he says, enfolded him in a “bear hug.” Then, using a cable and a lock, they chained the black wrestler to a locker. According to his mother, Victoria Gray, her son said that the teammates-turned-tormenters, at that point, shouted “Slave for sale.”
Such actions are alarming enough on their face, but what is most perplexing is the actions of the adults in the hours and days and weeks that followed the noose and the chaining and the racial slurs.
The Santa Monica Daily Press reports a part of the sequence of events:
A few things are known for certain.
After the incident, which occurred on May 4, counseling sessions were held on site for other members of the wrestling team that wanted to talk about the experience.
At those sessions, students were told to go home and tell their parents what happened.
Victoria Gray, the mother of the boy who was chained, was never informed, neither by her son nor by school officials.
She found out over three weeks later when a woman she had never met called her to tell her one version of events.
The two boys who allegedly did the chaining have been disciplined by the school with a three-day suspension. They will also have to help teach a freshman seminar on hazing.
The matter first came before the Board of Education at its meeting June 16, when Gray used public comment time to express her dissatisfaction with how the incident had been handled.
The Santa Monica Evening Outlook reports that Gray said her son, ” told her he didn’t want to make a big deal about the whole thing because he didn’t want to jeopardize the wrestling program.”
Gray said that her son told her that Leslie Wells, the principal of H House at Samohi, told him that the incident could get the whole wrestling program canceled.
It has also been reported that administrators insisted that students who snapped cell phone photos of any aspect of the noose and chaining incident, must turn in their phones, at which time the administrators deleted the photos.
The California penal code on the matter reads that: “Any person who hangs a noose, knowing it to be a symbol representing a threat to life, on the property of a primary school, junior high school, high school, college campus, public park, or place of employment….. shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by a fine not to exceed five thousand dollars ($5,000).
Community organizer Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope held a press conference in front of the high school on Wednesday afternoon to call for an investigation into the incident as a hate crime,. When I spoke to Ali on the phone afterward, he too said he was particularly angered and dismayed by the behavior of school administrators.
“I’m more shocked by the adults behavior than by the students,” Ali said then noted that the student’s mother has said that she was not informed of the incident, “Which meant the student didn’t get the support he needed.”
Ali is also troubled by the cell-phone-picture-deleting part of the story.
“If that happened, legally, they destroyed evidence. It sounds like they were more interested in protecting the school than in protecting the student who was bullied, or in using this incident as a real teachable moment.” Ali sighed. “And all that needs to be investigated. It also needs to be brought out into the open and talked about.”
There will be a chance to begin that conversation Thursday night, June 30, when there is a school board meeting scheduled at which school board member, Oscar de la Torre, said the noose and chaining incident will be discussed, and there will be a time for public comment.
PS: As bad as this incident is, the lock-’em-up zero tolerance reaction to the acts of teenagers helps no one. Emotionally violent actions such as these require meaningful consequences, which means more than a few days suspension, but they do not call for legal vengeance.
A few serious consequences for the adults, however, are clearly in order. They are the ones who should have been instantly protective toward Victoria Gray’s son then precipitated some kind of school-wide assembly or action to address the the myriad implications of the incident—and the deep damage actions like it can wreak.
Instead, it seems, the adults mostly ran to hit the “delete” button.