A group of White high school students in Wiggins, Mississippi could be facing hate crime charges after allegedly placing a noose around the neck of a Black student and “yanking backwards,” reports the Washington Post. According to Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson, the Black student is a sophomore football player at Stone High School and was in the locker room on October 13th when up to four White students wrapped his neck in a noose and pulled it tight. Johnson has demanded that authorities treat the incident as a hate crime.
“No child should be walking down the hall or in a locker room and be accosted with a noose around their neck,” he explained to reporters during a press conference held in front of the Stone County Courthouse on Monday.
“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 was accompanied by the alleged victim’s parents, Hollis and Stacey Payton.
“If you tolerate this incident today, you can tolerate much violent behavior in the future,” he warned.
Johnson told ESPN that the Black student was not physically injured during the incident, but was “terrified” by the actions of his White classmates.
According to Johnson, the incident was first reported to the Stone County Sheriff’s Department by the victim’s mother, who was allegedly discouraged from filing a report because one of the White students’ parents is a former police officer.
Sheriff’s Captain Ray Boggs shot down Johnson’s account, instead saying that he told the victim’s mother that filing a criminal case could make her son a target at school.
According to the sheriff’s department, all the suspects are 17 years old or younger and will be charged in juvenile court.
Johnson, however, is pushing for the students to be charged as adults. He demanded that school officials expel all students who were involved, noting that “these same individuals came to school earlier this year brandishing Confederate flags on their vehicles.”
In a statement released Monday, the NAACP wrote, “Allowing students to commit blatant hate crimes without severe consequences sends a message to students that their safety and well-being are not valuable enough to be protected.”
Nearly 800 students were enrolled in Stone High School this past school year: a quarter of them were Black and more than 72 percent were White. Across the state, the numbers are drastically different with Blacks accounting for 49 percent and Whites making up about 44 percent of the total student population.
The Washington Post reports that the incident is the latest in a string of racially charged attacks that have been both verbal and physical in nature.
In March, a former University of Mississippi student pleaded guilty to a federal civil-rights crime after admitting that he had taken part in tying a noose and Confederate flag around the neck of the James Meredith statue, which honors the civil rights hero for his role in helping integrate the state’s flagship university.