'That's Why You Shouldn't Let Monkeys Out of Their Cages': Racist Tweets After H.S. Basketball Game

How did the Mahopac basketball team's head coach—who is Black—react? What punishment is in store for the students?

By Albert Lin

Three New York high school students have been suspended and more are expected to be disciplined for posting racist messages on social media following their school's loss in a basketball game to a largely Black team.

"Those students are held accountable," said Mahopac Central School District Superintendent Thomas Manko, who emphasized that members of the team were not involved in the tweets. "They have been suspended from school. They'll lose privileges for participating in activities for a long time to come."

Manko added that the students will undergo sensitivity training when they return to school. He would not specify the length of the suspensions but said suspensions usually run from one to five days. "They chose poorly, horribly," Manko told The Journal News. "To use racial slurs or stereotypes, there's no room for that in our worldview."

Tensions were already high during the Feb. 27 game between Mahopac High School and Mount Vernon High School, both in suburban New York City, with reports of racial slurs being used by Mahopac players and fans and of a Confederate flag being waved. After Mt. Vernon's 43-40 win, Twitter exploded with racist messages, such as: "That's why you shouldn't let monkeys out of their cages #mtvernonzoo"; "tough loss boys, but at least we can talk to our dads about it"; and "one of the very few biological mount vernon fathers just tried to sell me crack outside the county center." (Many of the tweets in question have since been deleted or the accounts set to private or closed.)

Mahopac student Laura Peniowich told WCBS-TV, "It's disgraceful. It's embarrassing that people are saying racial slurs on Twitter. It's embarrassing just to go to the school."

Mahopac Head Coach Kevin Downes, who is Black, took to Twitter to express his displeasure at the actions of his team's supporters:

Mount Vernon Head Coach and Athletic Director Gary Cimmino said, "It's a disgusting part of sports."

In a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Commissioner of Education John King, Mount Vernon City School District Interim Superintendent Judith Johnson said that her school's team was "verbally attacked and subjected to racial taunts of an abhorrent nature." She called for, among other things, the events to be recognized as a civil-rights violation and for the Mahopac basketball team to be suspended for one year. (Presumably she means that the school not be able to field a team for a year, not that the players should be suspended from school for a year.)

Manko, who is retiring in June, said he has already apologized to Mount Vernon officials and hopes that the coaches and members of both teams can sit down for lunch and get to know each other better. Cimmino doesn't plan to be there. "I'm not interested in that at all," he said. "These might be criminal acts. If someone does something to me, I'm not interested in sitting down and singing religious songs with them."

As of the 2010 Census, the population of Mahopac was 91.1 percent white and 2.1 percent Black, while Mount Vernon was 63.4 percent Black and 24.3 white.


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