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Hate Graffiti Defile Samohi

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

February 9 -- Disturbing evidence of festering racial tensions greeted students and staff at Santa Monica High School Friday morning as they arrived to find school buildings and bathroom walls covered with venomous slurs and threats.

The “hateful words,” which targeted African-Americans, were written in the quad area, the Greek amphitheater, the administration building and a bathroom in the English building, according to student witnesses. They said at least one graffiti included a reference to a local Latino gang.

“These were horrific acts of HATE that we will not tolerate on our campus,” Principal Dr. Ilene Straus wrote Monday in an email to families. “We are deeply offended and feel this does not reflect who we are as a school community.”

School administrators acted quickly to cover up the graffiti, Straus wrote, but not quickly enough to shield it all from view before school started.

Straus wrote that school officials “are still unclear as to who actually wrote the graffiti.”

But School Board member Oscar de la Torre told The Lookout that he heard the vandals were “teenagers who do not attend Santa Monica High School.”

De la Torre runs the Pico Youth and Family Center and works directly with at-risk teenagers to steer them away from gang violence.

While de la Torre said that interracial tension is nothing new at the high school, he see this latest incident as a response to an inflammatory CD made by students on campus that insulted Santa Monica gang members and Mexicans.

Ironically, the makers of the CD were neither black nor Latino, but did associate with a clique of black students who act like gang members, de la Torre said.

The kids may not have known what they were setting off.

De La Torre believes that the CD probably drew in off-campus youth who retaliated by spreading graffiti across the school.

The incident is just one more example of the need for the community and for students to appreciate the magnitude of the tensions fueling Friday’s hate crime, he said.

“We have incarcerated so many of our youth that the problems of the prison are now within our schools,” de la Torre said.

The only way to solve the problem is to address “the hopelessness that poverty brings, that leads youth to define their manhood by becoming violent and joining gangs,” de la Torre added.

Referring to last April’s lunchtime melee at Samohi in which black and Latino students squared off, spurred on by a crowd of hundreds, de la Torre said it’s time to take the lessons of the near-riot more seriously.

“We need to get real and admit that there’s inter-group conflict,” de la Torre said. “The solutions have to come from the groups, parents and community coming together and working with the schools.”

Meanwhile, Samohi administrators quelled mounting tensions by holding mediation sessions with selected students and encouraging “classroom based conversations,” according to Straus.

Although there was “some verbal conflict and tension at lunch” Friday, and Santa Monica Police were invited onto campus, there were no fights and dismissal at the end of the day was “calm,” Straus wrote.

She urged parents to talk to their children and teach them that “hate crimes are not to be tolerated.”

“What happens to one, happens to all at Samohi,” Straus told the students Monday.

A police report has been filed with the Santa Monica Police Department and an investigation is underway, said Lt. Frank Fabrega, the police department spokesman.

He encouraged anyone with information about the crime to call the WE-TIP national hotline at 1-800-78CRIME, or 1-800-782-7463.

Callers who provide information leading to arrest and conviction may be eligible for a $1,000 reward, Fabrega said.

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