ROOSEVELT, N.Y. (PIX11) — Repeatedly shouting racial slurs; spitting on opponents, refusing to shake hands; and yelling insults about country of origin. Those are among the actions that students and supporters at some predominantly white schools took against students at a predominantly Black school, according to a lawsuit filed on Thursday.
Frederick Brewington, the attorney who filed the notice of claim on behalf of the Roosevelt Union Free School District, said that racist and hateful actions against the district have happened for years, but that incidents in mid-February of this year prompted Roosevelt Schools to take action now.
The lawsuit says that dozens of students from nearby Wantagh and Lynbrook schools, which are predominantly white, stood up in the bleachers and turned their backs when players from Roosevelt were being introduced at a basketball playoff game at Wantagh High School.
“They turned their back on the game and on Roosevelt,” Brewington said at a news conference Thursday morning to announce the lawsuit. He said that it sent a message of “total disrespect. It’s saying, ‘You do not exist.'”
Brewington said that the back-turning was just one of a series of alleged racist acts carried out by two predominantly white schools during two athletic events in February — one at a Lynbrook High School basketball game on Feb. 15, and another at the Wantagh High School playoff game on Feb. 17.
Written statements from Roosevelt High students providing anecdotal evidence of racist behavior were also displayed at Thursday’s news conference.
Students who’d been at the basketball games at issue specifically mentioned that “the n-word,” “Who’s your daddy?” and a comment about a student’s Asian heritage were among the racially charged insults repeatedly shouted at Roosevelt basketball players and cheerleaders.
Despite those actions, Brewington said, “Not a single thing happened, with regard to the referees.”
He said that the Nassau County Public High School Athletic Association Section VIII Code of Conduct calls on the host school’s referees, coaches and administrators to take action when improper behavior is exhibited by students. That didn’t happen, Brewington said.
He was joined at the news conference by Darlene Garlington, a psychologist who, among other things, has written 11 books that include research about the effects of bullying and other aggressive actions.
She said that in addition to referees and staff at the schools being sued, parents need to take responsibility as well.
“Where’s somebody in that audience, a white parent,” Garlington asked, “to say, ‘I wouldn’t want my child to be treated like that. I want my child to be raised better. Get your butt over here and sit down. What are you doing?'”
At the end of the Feb. 17 game, according to Roosevelt High administrators, the dozens of students who’d turned their backs on players at the beginning of the game rushed onto the court, in violation of athletic association rules.
“There’s supposed to be the handshaking of the teams,” Brewington said. When the traditional after-play activities didn’t occur, he said, “Students, the coaches felt unsafe. A mob was created.”
He provided video of the post-game gathering to support his point.
Garlington said that because nobody stepped in to stop the actions in the bleachers and on the court, “They were condoning the behavior by reinforcing institutional racism.”
She said that the actions can end up damaging Roosevelt students psychologically.
The lawsuit cites “mental anguish, mental pain and suffering, damage to name and reputation” as the injuries suffered by Roosevelt students.
Brewington wouldn’t detail any specifics of a potential settlement in the case, but he did say that the Roosevelt Schools are hoping that the other schools will at least contact them regarding the legal action. “Saying, ‘Can we come to you, sit down, and apologize earnestly,'” Brewington said, “and then we can decide what to do on what we need to do to change.”
For their part, the Wantagh and Lynbrook school districts comment through the same public relations firm, called Syntax. It issued a brief statement: “The district does not comment on pending litigation.”