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Racial threats can't be lightly dismissed

October 24, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Earlier this month, the mother of a senior at Greencastle-Antrim High School took her daughter out of school after what she said were racially motivated threats. The threats allegedly included the possibility that the black female could be shot or hanged.

The matter was turned over to the Greencastle, Pa. Police Department, which school officials said would decide whether to file criminal charges. This month four racially motivated incidents have allegedly occurred at the school, resulting in one suspension and three citations by police, which puts those matters in the hands of the juvenile court.

If the evidence backs up the charges, we strongly urge the court not to dismiss this as a playground squabble.

The suspects are not kindergartners, but high school students. They're old enough to drive and old enough to understand what the threat of lynching means to black Americans.

Lynching was a traditional method of punishing slaves, but its use against free African-Americans grew quickly after the founding of the Ku Klux Klan in 1867. According to research done in the late 1880s by journalist Ida Wells, some black men and women were hanged for minor offenses like shoplifting and public drunkenness.

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The Teaching History Online Web site notes that in the 100 years following the end of the Civil War, 2,400 African-Americans were lynched, some after being tortured.

In the past we have written that although the federal civil rights laws passed in the 1960s ensured the equality of the races under law, those new laws could not change how some people felt or what they believed. The force of law may be all that some people understand.

Thankfully, the incidents like those described are not frequent occurrences, which is all the more reason to take strong action if the court determines that the accused students are guilty. Ordering a public apology in front of the student body would be a fine start.

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