By the Way

‘Chips hit the fan’ in Stone County

Stone Middle School was on lockdown on Thursday afternoon after a gun was fired nearby.
Stone Middle School was on lockdown on Thursday afternoon after a gun was fired nearby.

People nationwide — along with most of us locals — have gasped at the news that some white students at Stone High School watched as another put a “noose” around a black student’s neck and yanked it back.

As a human being, I’m ashamed and appalled. I’m white, in case that matters, and probably old enough to be your mother.

What were the students thinking? Was it a foolish prank? A bully act? An attempt to intimidate? A racially motivated hate crime? Stone County officials won’t say, though we’re told it’s being discussed with the FBI. Sean Courtney, attorney for the Stone County School District, has told The Associated Press the student who applied the noose, a football player, was disciplined. The attorney wouldn’t say how.

With all due respect to students’ rights to privacy, the public has a right to know the official version of the story and the discipline. We don’t need to know the names. At least two or three students were there when it happened Oct. 13 in the football locker room. The one who “lassoed” the alleged victim was taken off the football team. That’s according to coach John Feaster, the first in any official capacity to speak to the media.

In campus security situations, the public has a right to know the students’ ages, what they did and what discipline they received, if any.

And why were we just hearing about it 11 days later?

Students attending a prayer vigil have now told us it was a jump rope, “a prank gone wrong,” and the student with the jump rope and the alleged victim are good friends.

As a veteran crime reporter, I’m disappointed some Stone County officials have had little or nothing to say. When the incident was made public by the NAACP, the Sun Herald was told Sheriff Mike Farmer wouldn’t be able to talk until the next day.

To be fair, Farmer did a day later confirm that details the NAACP told us were true.

But Farmer hasn’t given us his cellphone number, unlike sheriffs in the coastal counties, and he doesn’t issue press releases, which is how our sheriffs tend to alert the media of school problems, usually the same day.

Stone County School District Superintendent Inita Owen sent us an email saying she wouldn’t discuss it, but said everything that should be done was being done. We were to trust, it seems, that everything was being done by policies and procedures, even as the school district was telling us nothing.

Mississippi’s not looking good in the national media.

Henry Arledge, Harrison County School District superintendent for 30 years, set the bar high for community relations before he retired. He didn’t shy away from campus problems and he didn’t mince words. He felt obligated to tell the public as much as he could.

When a 13-year-old girl brought a gun onto a school bus, Arledge told me, “If you keep something like that quiet, the rumors just run rampant. We took the position to tell what we know and let the chips hit the fan.”

Maybe a different kind of chips have hit the fan in Stone County.