A Utah school district, which the U.S. Justice Department has previously condemned for mishandling racism complaints, is once again under fire.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported Dec. 3 that Elias West, a Black starting running back for Layton High School in Layton, Utah, was called the N-word during a game in October by an opposing white player, yet the district punished the Black student only.
As West picked himself up from the ground after a tackle, a white player on the other team said, “Stay down, you ni**er.”
West responded, “Don’t fu**ing call me a ni**er.”
A referee ejected West from the game, saying he only heard West use the racial slur. As a consequence, West, a senior, was sidelined for two games and missed his last opportunity to play in front of college recruiters.
“So a white boy said the N-word, a Black boy defending himself said the same N-word, and yet only one was punished,” said West’s mom, Lissa West, who is white.
The other team “went home and celebrated a win that night while my son went home in tears wondering why he decided to stand up against racism,” she added.
The incident took place in the Davis School District, in a predominantly white area of North Salt Lake, where kids of color were allegedly called slaves, the N-word, and have heard threats of getting lynched.
In September, the district received a Justice Department report that condemned the school district’s mishandling of reports of racism, the Tribune previously reported. Investigators found that district administrators intentionally ignored “serious and widespread” racial harassment for years.
Black fifth-grader Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor died by suicide on Nov. 6 after allegedly enduring bullying from classmates that teacher chose to ignore.
In its defense, the Utah High School Activities Association said it has a zero-tolerance policy. Players who use a racist slur are ejected and suspended for two games, and it doesn’t matter what instigated it.
“I feel bad for the young man. I don’t doubt that something was said to him that made him react the way he reacted. But it still doesn’t justify the reaction. And we still have to respond to that,” Jeff Cluff, the assistant director of UHSAA, told the Tribune.
The leader of the local Black Lives Matter chapter pushed back. Rae Duckworth told the newspaper that under this system there’s no accountability for the other player who the referee failed to hear use the N-word.
She called it “concerning” that the opposing team missed a teachable moment. “They need to be held accountable in some way. You can’t just brush that off. You can’t just let that go,” Duckworth added.