High school hate-crime allegations spur emotional debate [Video]
Allegations of a hate crime targeting a black student at Santa Monica High School generated an emotional debate at a school board meeting Thursday night.
According to the student's account given to authorities, the boy walked into the wrestling room at the school on May 4 to see a brown wrestling mannequin with a noose around its neck. He said he was then restrained by two boys who chained his pants to a locker. Classmates also made racially charged remarks, the student said.
Some community activists decried the incident, calling for hate-crime charges to be filed.But others said the incident has been blown out of proportion. Some said the incident was a prank and that there was no racism behind it.
Robert Forster, a volunteer coach at the high school, said at the meeting that he believes that "nothing racially" was said during the incident, according to KTLA.
"It is not hazing. It's a prank. ... It was a funny thing that the athletes think are funny in the locker room," he said.
There are now two ongoing investigations of the incident. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will examine how Santa Monica school officials responded to it. The Santa Monica Police Department will continue its investigation of the alleged incident itself, which officials say involved the African American student and other members of the school's wrestling team.
Police said they turned over the portion of the probe dealing with the school's response to the Sheriff's Department to avoid a conflict of interest. The Santa Monica Police Department has developed a close working relationship with school officials, they said.
Civil rights activist Najee Ali said Wednesday that the alleged incident amounts to a hate crime, and he called on authorities to prosecute it as such.
"This wasn't just a prank," Ali said. "This was a hate crime, and it needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Santa Monica High Principal Hugo A. Pedroza said in an email to parents earlier this month that the accused students were given appropriate discipline, including suspensions.
The boy's mother, Veronica Gray, said she was angry that the school never told her about the alleged incident.
-- Shelby Grad and Rick Rojas
Photo: Students arrive Thursday for a summer school session at Santa Monica High School. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times