Veronica Hendrix

*I am still haunted and incensed at the “alleged” hate crime that took place at Santa Monica High School here is Los Angeles County back in May.

An African American male student on the Santa Monica High School Wrestling team said he was restrained by two team mates as he entered the locker room to change. Next he said they used a cable and lock to chain him to a locker. Then finally they taunted him by putting a noose around the neck of a brown wrestling dummy, shouted a few racial remarks while taking pictures of the shocked, demoralized and immobilized young man with their cell phones cameras. Sounds more like a nightmare at SAMOHI – which is the acronym Santa Monica High School – than a typical day for a high school student.

The cover up that ensued was like scrubbing a crime. Student’s cell phone pictures were allegedly deleted. The incident was not reported to law enforcement, but school administrators scurried to tidy things up internally. But they forget or dispensed with doing something that was first and foremost – notify the student’s parent of the incident. How does that happen?  Why was it allowed to happen?

The student’s mother found out about the incident from a parent she didn’t know nearly a month after it happened, according to the account in the Los Angeles Times. As a parent, I can just imagine the surprise, anger, pain and betrayal she must have felt after learning about what had happened to her child. The school had an obligation, a responsibility to report the incident to her.  They failed. In fact they may be found culpable of much more in their attempt to obstruct the truth.

This just wasn’t a high school prank gone terribly wrong, as some have asserted. This was a racial assault against a child, a hate crime. That fact alone supplants everything else or any possible attempt to explain it away.

But more than that imagine the mother’s disappointment that her son decided not to tell her about the incident because perhaps he didn’t want to snitch on his team mates, make any more waves or further provoke his alleged assailants. That’s the tragedy here.

Innately, those involved knew it was wrong, hence the attempt to keep it quiet. Our rich and variegated history has taught us to speak up and fight socially and politically against this kind of injustice blatant or otherwise.  We know this as adults. But I wonder, is there a disconnect with our children?  Have we failed to pass this along?  Where is their venomous passion for racial justice and dignity? Where is their righteous outrage?  Where is their sense of entitlement to be treated with dignity and respect beyond the block or hood?

Our children are embed in world that feels homogeneous because they share common music, fashion, social mediums and alike. But incidents like what happened at Santa High School are a chilling reminder that race matters and affects how one is treated, defended and protected. It’s a sobering lesson to learn for this young man and his African American contemporaries at SAMOHI. And a wake up call for parents too.

School officials subsequently suspended the alleged student assailants, conducted sensitivity training for the wrestling team and also have implemented workshops on racial sensitivity, bullying and hazing as part of the orientation for freshman students. This may be a case of too little too late.

Najee Ali, director of the civil rights group Project Islamic HOPE, has filed a complaint with the Los Angeles District Attorneys’ office and United States Attorney central district office calling for the incident to be investigated and prosecuted as a hate crime.

In his complaint Ali sites California Penal Code, Section 11411 which reads: “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).”

Well SMM (that’s shut my mouth), the plot thickens. You just can’t make this stuff up.

This may be a long, hot summer for the school administrators and the involved students at SAMOHI despite the fact summer temperatures in the Los Angeles have been running unseasonably cool. There will be a lot of “splaining to do” in the months to come for sure. And for our children, there’s a lot of training we need to do as well.

(Veronica Hendrix is a syndicated columnist and feature writer whose work has covered the span of the human continuum – from clinical trials of male contraceptives, to the gang violence. For comments, interviews, speaking engagements or moderator requests please send an email to [email protected].)