In the aftermath of the Long Beach hate-crime trial, with nine convicted teen felons heading back to school — and in some cases warmly welcomed into top positions on sports teams — some of the victims and their families are bitterly lashing out at the high schools and the judge in the case.
After lying low during the trial, Barbara Schneider, mother of beating victim Laura Schneider, has appeared on 790 KABC Talk Radio’s Larry Elder Show and is lining up other appearances, while her daughter hopes to appear on Oprah. Schneider is furious about the sentences handed out this month by Judge Gibson Lee, who convicted the black teens of beating her daughter and two other white women last Halloween during a mob melee that left two of the women unconscious — one with severe facial fractures.
Probation investigators recommended the black teens be sent to California Youth Authority camps for at least six months, but Lee gave them short, court-supervised probation, curfew and counseling.
Schneider tells the L.A. Weekly she thinks about calling the parents of three Latina girls recently beaten in an alleged hate crime in Inglewood to warn them “about what they’re getting into. If we’d known how [black eyewitness] Kiana Alford’s life was torn apart… that the girls would be called liars and ridiculed. We wanted to believe that good triumphs over evil. And it didn’t.”
She wants Lee — who last Thursday removed himself from the upcoming trial of two black boys accused in the beatings — recalled from office. But her greatest concern is that the perpetrators not be regarded as heroes by their high school classmates. She’s petitioning the California Interscholastic Federation to ban convicted felons from competing on high school sports teams. (The federation allows convicted felons to participate in high school sports as long as no school official or student was assaulted.)
Schneider says Lee didn’t do the troubled teens any favors and predicts, “When these people violate their probation and come back into the system, they’ll get another slap on the wrist from Lee. Sending them home sends the wrong message, and is a danger to their schools, and to the community. They’re going to go right back into their schools and be welcomed as heroes.”
Her fears might not be far off. Most of the convicted teens participate in track for Long Beach–area schools including Polytechnic High, ranked by Sports Illustrated as having the best high school sports program in the nation in 2005.
One convicted minor, whose name was not released, was a nationally ranked runner and two-time state champion for Rancho Cucamonga High School whose transfer last year to Poly High was hailed as a coup for the school by sports fans. Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bouas admitted last week that the girl, accused of banging one victim’s head into a tree, was allowed to attend a recent track meet at which her sister — also convicted — got permission to take statistics.
The older sister, who is struggling with a 1.92 grade-point average, recently maintained an in-your-face MySpace page, on which she called herself “datvicioustrackstar,” that featured photos of friends making gang signs. One Long Beach schools coach, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Weekly she wouldn’t be welcome on most school teams now, explaining, “I think I’d… look for an academic reason not to keep her — or a district rule not to keep her.” But Kirby Lee, a photojournalist who covers high school sports, says, “It’s not likely that she’d be kept off the team” at Poly High.
Two other convicted teens, Poly High senior Anthony Ross and his twin sister, Antoinette, both 18, faced several disciplinary actions at school before they committed the Halloween hate crime. They’re not likely to compete in track again due to the California Interscholastic Federation’s restrictions — not on felony convictions, but on allowable absences from school. Their younger sister, a runner also convicted in the hate crime, is facing a school investigation over biting another athlete at a track meet.
“There are a number of coaches in our league and throughout the state and probably the country who don’t give a shit about grades. They want to win,” says the Long Beach coach. “If an athlete gets into a fight at school, he/she will be suspended and miss the next athletic contest.” Some schools let students involved in violence compete against tougher opponents “and then have them sit [on the bench] against an opponent where the athlete isn’t really needed.”
While the extensive disciplinary and academic troubles of several of the convicted kids indicate that coaches and other adults in their lives ignored the warning signs, Schneider still wants the public to remember the lasting effects of their hate crimes. “I worry about my girl — about when she has children, and every year at Halloween they’ll want to go trick-or-treating,” says Schneider. “What’s she going to tell them?”