A Mississippi NAACP official is calling for a federal hate crime investigation into an incident in which he said a noose was placed around the neck of a black high school football player and “yanked backward.”
Derrick Johnson, president of that state’s chapter of the civil rights organization, said Monday that as many as four white students were involved in the incident. However, the school’s coach said only one player was involved.
“No child should be walking down the hall or in a locker room and be accosted with a noose around their neck,” Johnson said at a news conference that included the parents of the Wiggins, Miss., player. “This is 2016, not 1916. This is America. This is a place where children should go to school and feel safe in their environment.”
Johnson said that the incident occurred Oct. 13 near a locker room in Stone High in Wiggins, which is about 35 miles north of Gulfport. John Feaster, the team’s head coach, told ESPN that it happened as players were preparing for practice and that only one assailant was involved.
“The individual that was responsible hasn’t been with our team since the incident,” Feaster said to ESPN. “I just want it understood, it could have been the biggest superstar and he would have been gone. I don’t care who it is — if you do something like that, you can’t be part of our team.”
The alleged victim’s parents, Hollis and Stacey Payton, attended the news conference but declined to give the name of their son, a sophomore who was not present. A spokeswoman for the NAACP, Ayana Kinnel, cited a statement from the player’s family in telling reporters that he returned to practice after the incident.
The alleged victim was not physically hurt but was “terrified,” Johnson said, adding that 20 students have been interviewed. In a statement released Monday evening, Stone County Superintendent Inita Owen said: “I will not comment on this matter at this time, nor will I address a matter of student discipline in the press. I can assure everyone that the Stone County School District takes all matters involving students very seriously and will do everything within its power to make sure that all policies and procedures were adhered to and that all of its students have a safe place to receive an education.”
Carissa Bolden of Wiggins, the mother of a middle school student, attended the NAACP news conference and said white students have been displaying the Mississippi flag from their vehicles. In use since 1894, the flag has the Confederate battle emblem in the corner. Bolden believes the flag and the noose incident are related.
“I feel like it escalated from them allowing kids to bring Confederate flags” to school, Bolden told the AP.
An officer with the Stone County (Miss.) Sheriff’s Department, Ray Boggs, said that an investigation is underway (per the Associated Press). He added that everyone thought to have been involved is under 17, and if charges are filed, they would be handled in juvenile court, with names withheld.
“It’s probably one of the hardest cases I’ll ever handle in my career, because of the nature of it,” said Boggs. “Have I ever had to deal with something like this? No, not from a high school.”
Johnson said that school officials should expel anybody responsible for the incident and said “these same individuals came to school earlier this year brandishing Confederate flags on their vehicles.” He said he wants the alleged assailants charged as adults.
“I’m an African American male and I was born and raised in Mississippi,” Feaster told ESPN. “It’s sad that something like this happens in 2016. I just pray we can get it together.”