Potential Hate Crime at California High School Under Investigation

An African-American Santa Monica High School student and wrestling team member says that in early May, he walked into a practice room and noticed a brown practice dummy hanging from a noose, then was accosted by teammates who made racist remarks, "bear-hugged" him, and chained him by his pants to some lockers.

And as if that weren't bad enough, Victoria Gray—the student's mom—says nobody from the school ever told her about the incident, even though administrators and other parents knew about it for weeks:

While Gray's son did not report the incident, the school was made aware of the situation, according to the paper. But the administrators did not inform the school community until June 16 — nearly five weeks later — when Principal Hugo Pedroza sent an email to high school parents about the incident and announced that the involved students "were given appropriate disciplinary consequences, including suspension."

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is investigating why school administrators responded as they did, and trying to determine whether any evidence relating to the incident was destroyed. Meanwhile, local civil rights activists are calling for the case to be treated as a hate crime. To date, the alleged perps were suspended for two days, and the whole team has reportedly received sensitivity training.

In a public statement, the wrestling club asserts that this incident isn't a hate crime but just a "prank" involving accidental, unfortunate symbolism:

... the Santa Monica Bay Wrestling Club explained ... that the wrestling dummy is frequently hung from a chin-up bar by a rope under the armpits for drilling, but on the day of the incident the attempt to hang the dummy failed resulting in a rope around the dummy's neck, the statement explained. "The rope was tied in a noose-like knot at some point, just as a way to try to set up the dummy for practice," the statement reads. "This was an understandably disturbing scene to some students, both black and white, but any noose symbolism was not the stated intent of the actions." The wrestling club statement then describes that strapping the black wrestler to the locker incident as "completely unrelated" to the hanging dummy. "In spite of what has been published in the papers . . . nearly every student on the team, regardless of race, has been the subject of this prank at some point in the season.

But according to one news report, the student says his assailants shouted "slave for sale" as they chained him to the lockers, which doesn't sound very much like an innocent prank. He also says he didn't report the incident because an administrator warned him that the wrestling program might be canceled if he spoke up. Also, the school superintendent told the press that some students took pictures of the hanging dummy—which just so happened to be brown—but administrators "collected their phones and destroyed the pictures." Oh, now that's suspicious.

Sounds like sensitivity training might not be enough to remedy what's going on at this school.

[ABC News, LA Times]