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The entrance to the Monument Mountain Regional High School campus with the football team practicing beyond the sign. The reported incident of a racially charged statement involved a Spartan football player.

African American student at Monument High School reportedly threatened with lynching

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By Thursday, Sep 29, 2016 News 46

Great Barrington — Monument Mountain Regional High School and Berkshire Hills Regional School District officials are acting on a report from an African American student who said a another student, who is white, told him Monday (September 26) that he was planning to “lynch” him.

Monument Principal Marianne Young told The Edge that while she could not discuss student issues, that indeed, administrators had “received a report of a racist comment…a comment we classify as hate speech.”

Young said the investigation is ongoing.

Multicultural BRIDGE Director Gwendolyn VanSant at protest in Great Barrington on Sunday (Sept. 25). Photo: David Scribner

Multicultural BRIDGE Director Gwendolyn VanSant at protest in Great Barrington on Sunday (Sept. 25). Photo: David Scribner

Multicultural BRIDGE CEO/Director Gwendolyn VanSant told the Edge that the organization, along with Railroad Street Youth Project (RSYP) had been called in to support the student who said he had been threatened with a “lynching, and that they would beat him up and hang him.”

VanSant said the incident was directly related to the student — a football player — having kneeled during the National Anthem at a game in Athol the week before. The gesture is considered a protest against police violence and killings of African Americans.

Another source familiar with some of the details of the incident, but who declined to be identified, said the student said he was told he would be “lynched in the woods.”

The threat mimics another made earlier this month to Ohio student Rodney Axson, the first high school football player to kneel during the National Anthem. Threats of lynching were made in that incident as well.

Young pointed to the school’s Student Handbook, which says this sort of behavior is off limits, and that students must “conduct themselves with tolerance and respect for the opinions and cultural, racial, religious and political differences of others. To speak with civility and act with common courtesy.”

Young said that anytime a student makes serious allegations the school “investigates and acts accordingly.”

“We are still investigating this, talking with students and parents,” Young said.

Ohio high school football player Rodney Axson who also was threatened when he 'took the knee' in protest against violence.

Ohio high school football player Rodney Axson who also was threatened when he ‘took the knee’ in protest against violence.

VanSant, who with Multicultural BRIDGE works closely with all the schools and other organizations, said that through BRIDGE and RSYP, two young African American men who have also experienced racist verbal attack have been supporting the student through the ordeal. VanSant was uncertain whether the perpetrator had been disciplined yet, and Young was unable to comment.

VanSant also said a restorative justice approach to discipline had been discussed, as well as finding support for the student who made the remarks.

VanSant said while racially inflammatory speech happens all the time, using lynching as a threat was an “anomaly” due to its “level of specificity.”

“We get calls from kids all the time from Southern Berkshire [Regional School District] and Berkshire Hills who’ve been called brown, dirty, the N-word — it happens constantly,” she said.

She added that in Great Barrington Multicultural BRIDGE wants to focus on training for schools, the police department and town officials, adding that there is funding to do that.

Berkshire Hills Superintendent Peter Dillon said schools reflect society.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneels during the National Anthem at an August game. Photo: Tim Williams for KRON4.com

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (center) kneels during the National Anthem at an August game. Photo: Tim Williams for KRON4.com

“The country is in a very difficult place right now, and adolescents say things and they don’t often know the implications,” he observed.

He further blamed such incidents on “the tenor of public dialog, the national political circus we’re all in — in a debate where people scream at each other, people think its OK to do that, too.”

He continued: “We have an obligation to use those horrible moments to educate, do counseling, workshops, movies and discussion groups. We do it as part of our work, but sometimes we bring in other outside groups — whoever is best positioned to help us think through that.”

Dillon said the district is working its way through Monday’s incident, and said while he was sure racist attitudes and speech are “always going on, we’re pretty lucky compared to most other communities.”

At a high school with about 570 students, Dillon said the number of such incidents can be counted on one hand. He said there was also “all sorts of wonderful behavior we should celebrate.”

African Americans constitute 1.7 percent of Berkshire Hills students. Mixed race students who are not Hispanic make up 4.7 percent, Asians, 2.7 percent, and Hispanics, 7 percent. Eighty-four percent of the district’s population is white.

Jennifer Van Sant protest on Great Barrington Main Street last week. Photo: David Inglis

Jennifer Van Sant protest on Great Barrington Main Street last week. Photo: David Inglis

Protests over recent incidents of police brutality and racism came to Great Barrington two weeks ago after a woman stopped traffic on Main Street to draw attention to the issue. That protest was followed by a Saturday gathering of around 40 activists at Belcher Square.

“Taking a knee,” as the Monument student did at last week’s game, is football parlance with new political bite ever since NFL player Colin Kaepernick was the first to do it during the National Anthem to protest police killings of black men. The gesture has spread, and other players, college and high school teams have followed suit.

VanSant said racism in small communities is tough to stamp out, noting there can be “subtle things” and close relationships that make it hard to eradicate, even when “in theory we all stand behind it.”

“The degrees of separation in South Berkshire [County] make it harder,” she added.


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46 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Jeff says:

    Sounds like Drama…!!

    1. Em says:

      It is and people love it. I’m close with the person being accused and this is absolutely out of hand.

      1. William says:

        It does sound out of hand. Threatening someone with physical violence is literally an assault and the fact that it’s meant to invoke fear in the recipient makes the motivation terroristic. If you’re close to the person, you may want to re-evaluate who your friends are, because this person sounds like a criminal and not someone I would choose to be close to.

    2. Em says:

      Drama and people love it. I’m close with the person being accused and this is absolutely out of hand. Do you not read the word at the title of the article…. Reported is the key word.

      1. DB says:

        Em, if you are close to the accused, you ought to have a heart to heart with that person and explain why a threat to lynch someone is no joke. You may want to examine your own”sense of humor,”,”drama”, or whatever you are trying to call it, and realize that it terrorism at its very core. Bullies often try to make others disregard their offences by trying to have a crowd of their piers laugh it off with them. This should be taken seriously before it escalates. All lives matter…yes, but that saying is just a means to deflect the tragic “targeting” of innocent black people that continues daily. It matters…large or small , there or here, it matters.

      2. MT says:

        Exactly, DB!

  2. Milo says:

    All lives matter. Not just black.

    1. William says:

      And we prove this by threatening those lives that happen to be black, such as the subject of this article?

      If all lives matter, threatening someone with lynching is a funny way of making that point.

  3. RC. Austin says:

    I am simply Perplexed, but not surprised, by the dismissive tone of the article and ALL of the players in it. Telling an African American teenager that he is going to be “lynched” in the woods is so much more than hate speech… I see it as dangerous terrorist rhetoric which should not be tolerated. I’m wholeheartdly disapointed with the superintendent who is STILL investigating the incident and the football teams coaching staff for not immediately removing the offender from the team.
    I don’t get it. America, white America, or Euocentric America seems to have a problem identifying terrorism or terrorist rhetoric and wants only to equate it with muslim fundamentlism when Black folk have known it’s hideous identity for hundreds of years. Make no mistake, some of us are unapologetic to your definition and your need to define! I feel for the young man and his family who, likely knows all too well the dangerous implications and who, like many in the local African American community are simply, and once again, shocked by the lackadaisical response from our “officials” and “moral” leaders!

    1. Just the Facts says:

      Where in the article did it say the offender was on the football team?

      1. William says:

        5th paragraph:

        “VanSant said the incident was directly related to the student — a football player — having kneeled during the National Anthem at a game in Athol the week before. The gesture is considered a protest against police violence and killings of African Americans.”

        Did you read the article? Apparently making a non-violent protest against violence against African Americans leads inexorably to threats of violence against African Americans! There is a direct correlation between low-intelligence and racist beliefs, unfortunately.

      2. Just The Facts says:

        William, I asked where it said the “offender” was on the football team. By “offender” I meant person who made the threat, as this was the language used by the poster. I was trying to point out that this is a very passionate and provocative issue, but that we need to be clear and level headed in our responses and base them on what we actually know, not what we assume. The poster who I questioned had assumed that the threat came from a football player, though nothing in the article stated this. This may or may not be accurate, I do not know, but that is the type of statement based on assumption that can inadvertently escalate an already charged situation by blaming people (football coaches and players) erroneously and causing that group to push back.
        Your reply to my post also, though I’m sure not intentionally, proves my point. You are understandably disturbed and passionate about this situation, and it seems that this caused you to assume I had not read the article and associate my reply with a “correlation between low-intelligence and racist beliefs.” So, please take care not to add fuel to the fire by reacting to assumptions, because assumptions usually come from a place of fear of others being against you, and it is fear in combination with ignorance that becomes the toxic fertilizer that allows racism to grow.
        Peace!

  4. Abby Pratt says:

    A similar incident at Boston Latin wound up with action by Federal authorities. A threat to lynch a black kid is terrifying because it’s no joke, considering the history of our country. i hope the student who was attacked will somehow move on. Oh, dear. What is our world coming to?

  5. Stephanie Higgins says:

    Power to Jennifer Van Sant, and power to the kid on the receiving end of such violent threats. Truly shameful….

  6. Billy Bob Johnson says:

    To be expected in the Berkshires, the most conservative, cloistered area of Massachusetts. Intolerance should never be accepted or excused.

    1. Sharon Koperek says:

      In the Berkshires we are liberal!

    2. Patrick Fennell says:

      GB would vote for a horse if it had a ‘D’ next to it’s name on a ballot.

      1. Just The Facts says:

        Please explain how political party labels or a horse are relevant or advance the conversation here.

      2. Lois Reynolds says:

        I do not respect your comment….

  7. peter greer says:

    This is disgraceful and should be dealt with severely and without any ambiguity ,

  8. Bob says:

    Do people today have any idea what lynching really is? It is not merely hanging a victim. It often entails disfiguring beating, torturing, and burning the victim. Look online at pictures of Emitt Till whose mother insisted on an open coffin for her son so people might see what horrors were perpetuated on her child. After you’ve done so, talk about drama and lip service investigations and feel good meetings and healing ceremonies which accomplish absolutely nothing to mitigate the issue of racial injustice in the United States. Such atrocious behavior needs to have Consequences. Consequences. Consequences.

  9. John Cheek says:

    Perhaps it is in some ways a good thing that this incident has come to light. Many here do not realize the level of racism in Berkshire county. This is not an isolated incident as is reported here. I do not think we are “lucky” as the superintendent says. There is a great need to deal openly and aggressively with this problem. The level of awareness needs to be raised both in the school and in the community. Such hate speech does not arise in a vacuum. White people need to open their eyes and listen to the minority community.

  10. Abby Pratt says:

    Just FYI–My mother told me that she and my Dad went on a honeymoon trip to the Berkshires. While looking for places to stay, they noticed that some hotels and inns advertised “CHURCHES NEARBY.” That told Jews that they were not welcome.
    Living in the Berkshires feels like living in a heavenly place, where people are extremely tolerant. But we need to be reminded that there are still people in our communities that hate certain groups. And we need to do something about it.
    Back in the previous century, Roselle Chartock, then a teacher in the History Department at Monument, introduced a course on the Holocaust. Perhaps another course is needed: a history of slavery and its consequences in the US.

    1. William says:

      I took that course from Roselle Chartock! It’s such a disgrace that Monument Mountain has students that express such violent hatred.

    2. John A.Beacco says:

      Abby, Roselle did not ‘ introduce ‘ the unit on the Holocaust. She taught one of the sections. Jeff Chase, then a member of the department and I put the beginnings on paper at my house early in the evening over a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon … Jack Spencer, the department chairman and Roselle much later edited a collection of primary and secondary sources in to a fine teaching tool entitled Man on Trial.

  11. P Kissell says:

    There is an exquisitely simple solution to this issue: stop playing the anthem.

    1. Just The Facts says:

      As exquisitely simple as sweeping dirt under the rug before company comes or arresting all the prostitutes in Rio before the Olympics. Helps with the image that all is hunky dory in the city on the hill.
      Or we could continue the discussion and try to understand each other’s concerns and point of view.

      Kneeling during the anthem does not in any way impede another person’s right to salute the flag as they see fit. In fact, I submit for discussion that it is possible to kneel during the anthem as a way of honoring America in one’s own personal way. However, would stopping playing the anthem all together fit the same criteria of not impeding another’s right to salute the flag or our nation in the way they see fit?

  12. Sharon Koperek says:

    My grandson is a senior intel analyst in the United States Army for 13 years and heading for 20 years….he said to tell all the flag wavers and the “white lives matter too” crowd that he and the military are fighting for FREE SPEECH..not for your “opinionated speech”…this is what the USA is all about..and I wonder how many here have had their ancestors lynched…we don’t live our lives by those who think because they wave the flag they are the only ones who love this country..maybe you need to go back and read the first amendment!!!! But here I’ll provide it for you…..The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting

    1. M.R. Jacobs says:

      Thank you, Sharon. And yes, I have had members of my family shot, beaten, locked up and lynched. A church was burned down because some nice neighbors took my siblings to their white church while my parents were sitting in a hospital with another sibling burned over 97% of his body. Years ago my father made the comment about racism. “Down south, at least it’s in the open.”

    2. Michelle Loubert says:

      Yes, the First Amendment…freedom of speech…freedom of religion (except under the Community Preservation Act in Gt. Barrington).

    3. Carol Diehl says:

      Thank you, Sharon. I am glad you are my neighbor.

  13. A says:

    DEPLORABLE! The parents of this kid should be ASHAMED and so should ANY of his friends. This community needs to stamp this kind of garbage out.

    Hate speech is hate speech and there are no two ways about it. Unacceptable in modern society.

    Hear something, say something folks. This only goes away when the community as a whole SHUNS this kind of behavior.

    1. Sue says:

      First of all read the Berkshire record. Secondly the kid accused never threatened the accuser nor did he say anything that was racial. What was said had nothing to do with football. What was said stems from the accused being threatened over time by the other kid.

  14. Stephen Cohen says:

    The lack of knowledge evidenced by many of the commentators and the student who made the statement quoted is staggering. Threatening a black person with lynching is perhaps the most traumatic and historically fraught threat that can be made to an African American. This is hate speech at its worst. I suggest that those who lack any knowledge of how reprehensible these words are read “The Lynching”, by Laurence Leamer, which relates the story of the last lynching in the US in 1981. Kneeling when the national anthem is played is not a threat to anyone, and merely an expression of the hypocrasy in our nation that the kneeler believes is evident by the treatment of people of color in the United States. Whether you believe that position is valid or not, it is certainly protected speech. It is sad to see some of the comments which dismiss the latent, and not so latent racism in our community.

    1. Sue says:

      All I can say is read the Berkshire record. You people have no clue what the accused really said. This kid is being used as a scapegoat. Until you know the truth keep your comments to yourself

      1. M.R. says:

        not only did the accused threaten to lynch him, he threatened to use his body for target practice. I’m not sure what you believe was said, but that is what was reported.

  15. Nicole Soules says:

    Absolutely disgusting! I am ashamed to admit I grew up there!

  16. Bonnie says:

    For you people that are saying this is out of hand, must be racist!! This truly needs to be addressed properly. The young man should be punished!! This was a major threat to the other young man. People get upset about bullying well this is more than that!!! This young boys life was threatened and you people are saying it’s out of hand and are for the one that said it. People need to get their priorities straight. All lives matter!!!!

    1. Sue says:

      No one was threatened. No one said anything about lynching. The accuser never said anything racial. You people have no clue

  17. Mickey Friedman says:

    I really think it’s time for the Berkshire Edge to revise its policy about comments. If people are going to insult other commenters – and it doesn’t particularly matter to me right now what side they’re on – then they at least ought to sign their real names and stand behind their comments. It’s pretty easy to demean someone when you’re standing in the darkness. This continual sniping has characterized the comments section of the Edge for a while now, and seems true of a variety of issues being covered. I’m not suggesting that anonymity isn’t appropriate, even required, when it is necessary to protect one’s life or reputation but these discussions seem to fall far short of the cases that may require the Witness Protection Program.

    1. Mickey — Couldn’t agree with you more. It’s a particularly precarious balancing act when there is a controversial issue at hand. We’ll review the comments more closely, again. Thanks for your observation.

  18. Shawn G. says:

    I coach at Monument. Last year I suggested a diversity/sensitivity training for all coaches. It didn’t happen.
    The student is accountable for his actions/words, but it starts with the adults. We must be good role models.

  19. Catherine Palmer Paton says:

    With October 1st being National Safe Child Day, it is high time for violence to end against anyone less than self-defense (or as others acting to quell someone who is on a rampage.)

    Even then, ideally someone could be left alone or talked down from their threatening stance. We could take a moment of silence to mark this time nationally (and that would include rural areas not just crowded cities with millions struggling and maybe ‘choosing’ to live without nature or quiet as a given.

    Those could prove a healing balm, but likely are not appreciated for the gifts of life and support they provide. I would ask that people really reflect on what a group of youth simply trying to enjoy a day of fun and frolic experienced in neighboring Falls Village (and Salisbury) CT at the Falls of the Housatonic River in June 2009.

    One youth, who happened to be our only son, gave his all to save not only two friends from the river bank but a third from waters that seemed deadly. Unfortunately for our son, that proved the case. One psychic indicated that it was likely the effort to push his friend to safety that resulted in his loss of life to the raging waters. A few rescuers have spoken to the courage and drive it must have taken to fact the horrendous situation. I have reflected on this in many ways on a FB page and on livfully.org which has reached over 80K people. It is a big world out there, and apparently than most of us can imagine.

    Maybe there is life after death, and it could be that ‘what goes around, comes around’. Before you wish someone harm or death, think “would I want to have this happen to me or someone close to me?” Hopefully that would be a Negative. Still, suicide is a growing problem, especially among males

    . Overall many males ‘act out’ (yell, blame others, get violent) and females ‘act in’ (as in blame themselves, drink or get depressed) to deal with problems if they are not managing things with support very well. Why not aspire to learn from the many resources online and people in our area trying to help the next person along.

    There are so many needs, and while homelessness and addiction are huge, the sorry case of too many unbalanced people of any age, but especially younger people (under 25 or so who have energy and likely not much of a support network), get carried away. Likely there is a lot of fear (and yes, life is scary), and trying to take cues from the media or limited world experience (but it’s time to come into modern times and enjoy life, especially because our time on earth is a gift and likely a ‘time-limited offer’ especially due to the damage we are doing to the planet. Our son Kaelan was concerned about that at age 7 (when I asked him to tell me what he learned from his time homeschooling..what was important for him and what he wanted to share.) It may take a few generations and decades to work a lot of the historical imbalances out. I wish everyone the best to keep the peace in their own minds and souls, and in their families and friends circles then the wider community. Usually the ‘domestic abuse’ can keep police and agencies hopping.
    Violence against “friends and associates’ can also be higher than that of strangers. These are sad patterns we can face to promote change. The Lionheart Fdtn has free videos for the S&H of 5 dollars each. I have copies if a group would like to borrow them too. Good luck and for any youth or others saying, “Okay, I’ll try to get steady to honor what Kaelan did, I thank you and trust he’d be at your side spiritually anytime the waters seem to be rising and you may feel doomed.’ Don’t give in to the bullying patterns or even being a victim (both of which can be linked to one’s personality patterns so see The Enneagram to learn your type 1-9, and gain some ideas from groups like Toastmasters and NVC about speaking respectfully (and bravely) when it is safe and reasonable to do so. I am taking a lot of risks supporting unpopular causes, but it seems a few more need to make some of these issues pertinent to the times and people now.. Hope I’ve gotten a few to ‘stop and think…before saying something or acting in a way they likely will regret…if not right away when it could ‘happen to them’ karmically this lifetime or next, or even as they grow older and wiser and consider how many people it takes to get something done..and maybe even to learn about life–the good, the challenging and the out-of- this- world!

    (Some of the info on http://www.tomreed.info and about UFOs say we are not exactly getting good ratings in the cosmos for our low-level functioning on the humanitarian front worldwide. Let’s consider the possibilities and strive to arrive at a better set of options sooner rather than ‘it’s too late’-er’.

  20. Bernie says:

    Racist comments?
    That’s like calling rape an act of passion.
    It’s a crime and the people involved need to be charged.

  21. KT says:

    If we don’t make mistakes we never learn forgiveness.

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