NAACP raises concerns of harassment in small Missouri town

ST. LOUIS — The NAACP is questioning why a black middle-schooler in a small Missouri town was suspended for fighting a white student who he says called him a racial slur and cornered him in a bathroom, while the white student was not.

Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel said Friday that the confrontation was among several instances of harassment faced by the Boyd family since February, when they moved from St. Louis to a rural community in southeastern Missouri and enrolled their children in school in nearby Leadwood. The predominantly white town of Leadwood has a population of 1,200, and as of 2017 it had no black residents, according to census data.

"Something's going on in that community," Chapel said. "There's enough that the family, in and out of school, feels terrorized."

Two of the five Boyd children attend West County Middle School, part of West St. Francois County R-IV School District. Chapel said both boys are subjected to frequent racial harassment by classmates.

Margo Boyd said that a white student called her 14-year-old son the N-word on April 15. She said her son came home that afternoon and told her, "I can't do this anymore."

The family complained to the principal, and the next day the white child was told to stop the harassment, Boyd said. But a half-hour after the verbal reprimand, she said, the white child followed her son to a bathroom and began calling him names while blocking his exit.

Her son had had enough and asked, "Do you want it in the face or do you want it in the chest?" Boyd said. He then punched the boy in the chest.

Boyd's son was suspended for three days. The white child's punishment was two days of after-school detention, Boyd said.

The school district's superintendent, Stacy Stevens, declined comment but provided a statement that said the district "adamantly denies the characterization" portrayed by the NAACP, and accused the organization of seeking to "incite fear."

"Our district remains committed to providing an inclusive environment for all students and families that is free from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation," the statement read.

Boyd said that in addition to the suspension, the district contacted the St. Francois County Sheriff's Department for possible criminal charges against her son. The department didn't immediately respond to a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Chapel said family members have dealt with other harassment and threats, including comments such as, "We know where you stay and you better start leaving now," and, "Don't let the sun go down before you get home."

The Missouri NAACP in 2017 issued an advisory warning travelers to Missouri that their civil rights may not be respected. The advisory followed passage of a state law making it more difficult to sue for housing or employment discrimination. It also cited a report showing black Missouri drivers were 75 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over by police.

Chapel said the travel advisory remains in effect, in part because of the sort of harassment the Boyd family faces.

"In many cases with discrimination and harassment, it takes a toll on a person," Chapel said. "Here, it's happening to kids. It is really, really hard on the family."

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