WIGGINS, Miss. (AP) — The president of the Mississippi NAACP is demanding a federal investigation after the parents of a black high school student said four white students put a noose around their son’s neck at school.
“We’re calling on federal investigators to view this as a racial hate crime…. This is 2016, not 1916,” president Derrick Johnson said Monday during a news conference in Wiggins. He said the incident happened Oct. 13 near a locker room at Stone County High School in Wiggins.
Stone County, near the state’s Gulf Coast, has about 18,000 residents. The population is about 78 percent white and 20 percent black.
Hollis and Stacey Payton, parents of the alleged victim, attended the news conference but did not speak. Their son, a sophomore football player, was not with them and they did not release his name.
The NAACP said the incident happened during a break in football practice and that the noose was “yanked backward” while on the student’s neck.
Johnson would not say whether noose left any marks on the black student. According to a statement from the student’s family, he returned to football practice after the incident, said Ayana Kinnel, a spokeswoman for the state NAACP.
Mississippi has struggled with a history of racial division. It is the last state that still incorporates the Confederate battle emblem on its state flag. In 2014, two out-of-state students at the University of Mississippi placed a noose on the campus’ statue of James Meredith, the black student who integrated Ole Miss in 1962. Both pleaded guilty to using a threat of force to intimidate African-American students and employees. Neither attends the school anymore.
Names and ages of the other students allegedly involved in the Stone County incident weren’t immediately released.
The Stone County Sheriff’s Department provides officers at local schools and typically is the first to respond to incidents. Sheriff’s Capt. Ray Boggs said officials believe something close to what the Paytons described did happen and said he’s still investigating. He said all the students involved are younger than 17 and he expects any charges would be filed in youth court, where records are closed to the public.
“It’s probably one of the hardest cases I’ll ever handle in my career, because of the nature of it,” said Boggs, who is black. “Have I ever had to deal with something like this? No, not from a high school.”
Johnson said Stacey Payton was advised against filing a police report because the father of one of the alleged assailants is a former law enforcement officer. Boggs said he talked to Stacey Payton and that’s not true. He said he told her that pursuing criminal charges could result in hard feelings among students that could make her son’s life harder at school.
Stone County High School Principal Adam Stone referred comment to Superintendent Inita Owen. She and school board attorney Sean Courtney didn’t immediately respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.
State Department of Education spokeswoman Patrice Guilfoyle said the state usually lets local districts handle student discipline.
Carissa Bolden of Wiggins, the mother of a middle school student, attended the NAACP news conference Monday and said white students have been flying the Mississippi flag from their vehicles. The upper left corner of the state flag used since 1894 has the Confederate battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. Bolden said she sees a connection between the flag and the noose incident.
“I feel like it escalated from them allowing kids to bring Confederate flags” to school, Bolden said.
The NAACP said in a statement that officials have mishandled the situation. It said no one has been charged with a crime, and the student’s parents have not been told of any punishment for the other students involved.
“They failed to protect this student throughout this ordeal,” the NAACP said. “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.”
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