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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Federal Civil Rights Complaint Filed in Alleged SMMUSD Hate Crime

• Incident Has Led to Renewed Emphasis On Need to Address Diversity Education at All Schools

BY KAYLA BROWN

The dispute over the alleged occurrence of a Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District campus hate crime has escalated as Najee Ali of Project Islamic H.O.P.E and Melvin Snell of the Los Angeles Humanity Group Foundation filed a federal civil rights complaint on July 6 against three individuals involved in a Santa Monica High School wrestling team incident.
On Tuesday, July 12, the Malibu Surfside News was sent a press release indicating that an additional civil rights complaint had been filed against the SMMUSD, former district Superintendent Tim Cuneo, and previous Samohi Principal Hugo Pedroza for the “obstruction of justice.”
On May 4, a male African-American Samohi student was allegedly confronted with a noose, and attacked by two male Caucasian students, prior to wrestling practice. The pair reportedly chained the student to his locker, and proceeded to taunt him with racial slurs.
While the incident was reported to school district administration that day, the mother of the victim, Victoria Gray, was not notified until several weeks later by a complete stranger.
Ali and Snell initially encouraged additional investigation of the incident by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and have now taken further legal steps.
Filing a complaint with U.S Attorney Andre Birotte of the Central district office-Los Angeles, they said they hope to now “let the investigation take its course, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Despite Samohi officials’ and campus assistance’s claims that this incident was a “prank,” Ali asserts, “if it was a prank, why did [district personnel] go to such great lengths for students to destroy all evidence [photos of the incident], and why was the mother never contacted?”
Display of a noose “knowing it to be a symbol representing a threat of life, on the property of a high school” in the state of California, is considered a criminal offense and is punishable up to a year in jail and a fine up to $5000 (California Penal Code Section 11411).
Thus why Ali and Snell said they insist “the students involved did indeed commit a hate crime” and should be adequately punished.
In addition, they allege that Samohi wrestling head coach, Mark Black, should be considered “a party to this incident for covering up the crime and encouraging the destruction of evidence.”
The federal complaint was formally filed against Black, and the two student wrestlers involved in the attack.
Alluding to what the two activists allege is Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s attempt “to cover up a vicious hate crime,” Ali and Snell’s underlying concern fueling this complaint is the “message that campus hate attacks will not be punished or taken seriously.”
As the incident unravels, the district, law enforcement, and the community are under a microscope.
Those concerned about the incident appear to agree there is future benefit in Ali and Snell’s notion to encourage “more diversity and intervention, because things like this can get out of hand, and that’s something we don’t want to see happen.”

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