Student says he's a victim of racism

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Cameron Burney didn't know where else to turn, so he went to the Steamboat Springs City Council.

Burney, a junior at Steamboat Springs High School, told council members during Tuesday's meeting that he has been the target of racial graffiti at the school since October.

"I've experienced racial intimidation," said Burney, who is black. "I don't know what to do about all this."

He asked the council what its members would do if their children were the targets of racism.

"This certainly isn't tolerated," City Council President Paul Strong said.

Council member Kathy Connell thanked Burney for his courage and apologized for what he has been subjected to. The council plans to write a letter to the school district expressing its concern and interest in the matter.

"This is a serious issue, and we should take an active role," Connell said. "We can't let this kind of thing creep into our community."

Burney and his mother, Kimberley Mares, said they wanted to make the situation public knowledge because they don't feel the school district or anyone else has taken appropriate measures to deal with the issue.

Mares said her son has been the subject of at least nine incidents of racially motivated graffiti, including one that refers to a "racial cleansing day."

"His civil rights are being violated," Mares said. "Cameron has a big heart. He wouldn't hurt anyone."

Mares said neither the school district nor police have handled the situation adequately, and she questioned why a suspect hasn't been identified and charged in the crimes. The school district has not followed through on promises to let them know about additional incidents and failed to inform the parents of other district students about the graffiti, she said.

A December high school newsletter included a letter from Principal Dave Schmid in which he addressed "several disturbing incidents that have included the writing of racial slurs and degrading symbols in some of the restrooms" and how the school had discussed the issue with its students.

The school district and Steamboat Springs police have investigated the graffiti incidents since October.

A 16-year-old high school student was charged in February with a misdemeanor count of defacing property in connection with a February incident of graffiti at the school, but that incident wasn't race-specific, Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James said.

The student charged was suspended from school for 13 days and is attending school under a "zero tolerance" contract that mandates counseling, weekly meetings with Schmid, restitution for his crime and other stipulations, Superintendent Donna Howell said. The contract was a recommendation from Schmid, she said.

St. James said he has worked extensively with law enforcement personnel to identify a suspect. But the nature of the crimes, especially their location and style, has made that task extremely difficult. For one, the graffiti has been etched into bathroom stalls instead of written in pen or pencil, making handwriting samples and tests useless, St. James said. No students have come forward with information that someone confessed to the crimes, and no one has been caught in the act.

"I've reviewed everything the police department has done in this case," St. James said. "There's nothing else they can do except hide in a bathroom stall, which is impractical and inappropriate."

St. James said he and police detectives understand the frustration of Burney and Mares. He said officials feel some of that frustration, too.

"This crime is up there with the crimes I hate the most," he said. "I don't want to live in a community where this goes on. I would love very much to apprehend the person. It's horribly frustrating."

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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