This past week, my hometown, Tallahassee, Florida, made national news when a 17-year old white male who attends Lawton Chiles High School videotaped himself shooting a BB Gun while screaming “die niggers die” and other racist epithets. While the student was not arrested and has not been suspended or expelled from school at this time, Chiles Principal Joe Burgess, who is black, trying to mitigate the poor behavior, said: “Things are never going to be perfect, as a school we are imperfect people. We strive to be perfect, but we are imperfect people.”
It is important to note that Chiles High School sits on the northern side of Tallahassee and serves as the public high school for a number of tony neighborhoods filled with many of the “Who’s Who” among Tallahassee’s patrician business and civic leaders. Despite this fact, last year the school had to deal with a similar controversy when some white students brandished Confederate Battle Flags on trucks and t-shirts.
(Black students at Chiles High watch as a white student waves his Confederate Battle Flag from his truck last year)
Later this past week, news broke that Chiles High School assistant football coach Trey Pettis, pictured below, typed a comment on Snapchat to one of his players who skipped practice to attend a dinner function with his girlfriend and her parents, that he should “leave that monkey” where she was.
Lest we forget that the late Howard Cosell was fired from ABC sports for exclaiming “look at that little monkey run” in reference to a black wide receiver during a Monday Night Football game during the 1980s.
(Chiles High School Assistant Coach Trey Pettis)
Pettis, son of head football coach Kevin Pettis, has not been fired–he is on administrative leave. Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna, in announcing his choice of discipline, said: “This young coach used very poor judgment and has been disciplined accordingly..Part of his discipline includes being suspended without pay and immediate removal as a member of the Chiles High School coaching staff.”
Talk about slaps on the wrist? In my experience, racism is far worse than mere “poor judgment.”
You see, about a decade ago, when Barack Obama was elected to become the first Black President of the United States, the mainstream media was quick to declare the dawn of the “Post-Racial Era.” I knew then, as I do now, that such was some feel good, illusory poppycock. Racism had not died then, and racism is still alive now, because the sad truth is that from time immemorial, some of our fellow white Americans of low intellect, low ethics, and low spiritual understanding, those who, having accomplished little of acclaim in their lives other than being white in a majority white nation, simply despise people of color. Such feelings are especially true among this ilk towards people of color who possess higher intellectual, ethical, and spiritual acumen. Former President Lyndon Johnson said it best, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Not much has changed since LBJ said that in 1965…
But my beef this morning is not with such low lives, be they 17-year old students or 20 something year old coaches who hurl racial epithets, but in the double standards promulgated by those in authority, be they school superintendents, administrators or the police, that leave such racist comments and acts unchecked.
It did not surprise me that the 17-year old student at ritzy Chiles High was not arrested for disorderly conduct or reckless driving (“look, ma, no hands while I spew racist drivel). No, I am apoplectic because I know that had a 17-year old student at predominantly Rickards or FAMU High Schools on Tallahassee’s southside been riding down a street shooting a BB gun while screaming “Die Crackas Die,” that said 17-year old would have been brought in for questioning, and quite likely kicked out of school and arrested, thus forcing them to seek my or some other criminal defense attorney’s representation–if they were not shot dead by the police for brandishing a toy gun like 12 year old Tamir Rice was a few years ago.
Similarly, had a black assistant coach at Chiles High School sent a Snapchat message to a white player saying that he needed to leave that “little Becky Cave Bitch” and get to practice, I am certain that said black assistant coach would have been fired, post-haste, with white parents also calling for the job of Chiles High’s black principal, Joe Burgess, for ever hiring such a person.
The ironies, and double standards, are literally and figuratively rich…
Indeed, when racism goes unchecked, the logical result is that the purveyor learns no lessons and is free to continue in his or her racism with impunity. But on a deeper level, what will stop the next kid from switching a BB gun to a real gun and fulfilling a “Die Nigger Die” psychotic fantasy when all who watch saw that nothing happened this week to the Chiles High student? Or, how can any black parent of a football player at Chiles trust that their son is being treated fairly, be it playing time or college recruiting, when the head coach, Kevin Pettis, has a son on staff making virulently racist comments like Trey Pettis made?
To me, “apologies” do not come close to the mark of checking such racism; firings, expulsions and strong verbal condemnations by those in authority are the only solutions for the short term and the future.