Racist Tweets Following Section 1 Basketball Playoff Game Draw Ire, Fire

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Members of the Mount Vernon boys basketball team were targeted by racist tweets.
Members of the Mount Vernon boys basketball team were targeted by racist tweets. Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Schools

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – Three Mahopac students have been suspended – and the district anticipates more suspensions to follow – after directing racially charged Tweets toward Mount Vernon boys basketball players following the Thursday, Feb. 27 Section 1 championship semifinal at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.

Leaders from both districts met with state officials from the Commissioner of Education’s office and the governor’s Division of Human Rights and on Thursday to discuss the incident, which escalated quickly after a hotly contested 43-40 Mount Vernon victory.

According to interim Superintendent Judith Johnson, both districts have vowed to use this as an opportunity to educate about diversity and tolerance.

“We met to discuss the incidents, identify the points of contention and to agree on a number of next steps,” Public Information Officer Vanessa Ridder said on her behalf. “All of the steps discussed will be presented to each district’s Board of Education. They’ll focus on using this incident as a teachable moment.”

Tweets following the game included such racial remarks as “That’s why you shouldn’t let monkeys out of their cages,” and “tough loss boys, but at least we can talk to our dads about it.” Another Tweet that went viral included the image of a confederate flag.

Mahopac Superintendent Thomas Manko noted that none of the students that were suspended for the incident were members of the basketball team. More suspensions may be coming in the next week.

“The students are being held accountable. They have been suspended and will lose privileges for a long time,” he said.

Mark Davis, a Mount Vernon parent who didn’t attend the game, expressed shock and outrage when told about the incident on Thursday outside of the Longfellow Middle School.

“It’s 2014. It’s disgraceful that this is still something our children have to deal with,” he said. “They should bring down the hammer, and they should do it hard.”

In her complaint to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Education Commissioner John B. King, Johnson said that during the postgame handshake, there were racist remarks directed towards the team, and a confederate flag was prominently waving in the stands during the game. She recommended that the Mahopac basketball team be suspended for one year.

“As public officials, we share the responsibility of promoting fair and honest discussions about concerns of intolerance,” she wrote. “In an ongoing effort to create a climate of respect for all, we appreciate the opportunity to work together towards addressing these hurtful incidents within our individual districts and as a region.”

Johnson said that Mahopac violated the Dignity for All Students Act, and the cyber bullying needs to be taken seriously.

“While efforts to address a heightened awareness of the emotional and social damage that comes from being victims of racism were discussed, I also asked that we address the issues of social justice,” she said. “Our district will not stand idle in the face of violations of human rights.  I continue to feel that the most effective way to combat injustice and discrimination in this country is to turn to the courts for evidence of laws that have been broken.”

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As a reporter and sports editor for several news outlets who has covered Mount Vernon boys and girls basketball for nearly 25 years, I have to say that the programs -- parents, Coach Bob Cimmino and his coaching staff and players especially, have shown a high level of accomplishment both on and off the court -- are role models in their community and have offered very little but positive performance over the last 20 years. It is a shame that negative and derogatory comments from a few unfortunate people should slander these young men and the community. Racism is often a symptom of ignorance. Those who made racist or other comments should note that most of Coach Cimmino's players go on to college and many have returned to their community as teachers and other professionals who motivate young people.

Racism may be a symptom of ignorance, but it is perpetuated in Hollywood movies, reality tv, and much of the lyrics of today's so-called music. As long as it's allowed and indeed encouraged in those media sources, we can't rightfully expect people to not make the occasional comment perceived as racist.

The hypocrisy here is, if it were the other way (Mount Vernon slurring Mahopac), it wouldn't even be in the news.

The behavior is pathetic and hopefully is being dealt with appropriately. Bringing a Confederate flag to the game is a planned act designed to insult and intimidate, and not something done out of anger or frustration.

We live in very segregated communities and we actually expect something different? It is always when an incident happens to stir the pot for reflection and tolerance that we jump to attention; however what do we do on a daily basis to build a non-segregated society that cultivates respect and good will for all?