Our View: Fight racism at all levels


The recent court case of a local teen charged with felony assault for punching a fellow student alleged to have taunted him with racial epithets serves as an important reminder that fighting racism in any and all forms must be an ongoing community effort.

Randall Nelson, a 15-year-old freshman at Steamboat Springs High School, was acquitted last week of felony assault charges and a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. The case stemmed from a February 2007 incident at Steamboat Springs Middle School, where Randall punched a fellow student who had taunted him for more than a month. The punch or the resulting fall broke the other boy's jaw.

While it's important not to overstate the problem, it similarly cannot be ignored. And there is recent history to suggest that racism does exist in Steamboat Springs, including its public schools.

Randall, who is black, had been subject to racial taunts before. As a fifth-grader at Strawberry Park Elementary School, Randall was harassed by two older students on a school bus. An 11-year-old at the time, Randall was told to move his "black ass," and the students pretended to whip him like a slave.

Also in fall 2003, a dozen or so incidents of race-related graffiti were found on bathroom walls at the high school. At least one of the incidents was directed toward a specific student. That student and his mother later appeared before the City Council to express their frustration at how the incidents were handled by the schools and law enforcement. School officials think the student responsible for the graffiti was identified and punished.

In October 2004, Battle Mountain High School football coaches and players accused their Steamboat Springs counterparts of making racially charged comments during and after a game at Gardner Field. Administrators and students from each school arranged a meeting to talk about the alleged incident and other issues facing teens.

In August 2005, a 22-year-old Steamboat man was arrested on suspicion of spray painting racial slurs and a swastika on a parked car. Police said the man became enraged after he was kicked out of a party after allegedly yelling racial slurs at a black man. He threatened partygoers with a pocketknife before eventually leaving. The man later plead guilty to several of the charges.

Also in August 2005, racial slurs were written on a car parked at Colorado Mountain College.

This summer, a black man was stabbed at a downtown Steamboat Springs bar, allegedly after getting into a confrontation with a man who told him to stop talking to two white women. The suspect, Christopher Allen Hamm, appeared in court this week but has yet to enter a plea.

We weren't so naÃive as to believe racism didn't exist in our pocket of Northwest Colorado. Steamboat Springs and Routt County are nearly 90 percent white. Teaching acceptance and embracing diversity can be an even bigger challenge in places where it exists in limited quantities.

The Steamboat Springs School District has a no-brainer policy stipulating that harassment of any kind is prohibited and punishable. But it takes more than written policies to identify and put an end to bigotry and racism. It takes active involvement from parents, teachers, coaches and neighbors. It takes people willing to object to an off-color joke told by a classmate, friend or co-worker. It takes teachers with the courage to intervene when they overhear derogatory remarks in hallways and classrooms. It takes parents who address the issue with their children and emphasize its importance.

We hope the hateful actions of a few among us are simply that - the ignorance of a small number of juveniles and adults who nonetheless are capable of casting a dark shadow on our entire community. But hoping isn't sufficient. We must, as a community, make the effort to stand up to prejudice and racism whenever and wherever we see it.


letomayo 9 years, 4 months ago

why doesn't the Pilot run some public sevice ads speaking up for diversity of thought and others who are different in any way urging students to take responsiblility for building a better world for themselves. That would be a nice gesture to our community. Does the Pilot ever do any public service annoucements (ads) that support community ideals.


JazzSlave 9 years, 4 months ago

"Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man's genetic lineage -- the notion that a man's intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors."

  • Ayn Rand

rfj0401 9 years, 4 months ago

I agree that racism is wrong and a terrible thing. Although, One can say whatever they want(1st Amendment) In the case of the broken jaw, that was assault. In most other area's of this country the student would have gone to jail. The law is the law. I think racism is awful and never a good thing but neither is Violence. If the roles where reversed the white Student would be in Jail.


handyman 9 years, 4 months ago

rfj0401 - You make a valid point: We, as Americans, have a 1st Amendment right to speak our mind. We, as human beings, can be a very vile and cruel species. We can also be a very caring and compassionate species. I believe in treating everyone with respect and dignity. The "white" boy learned that behavior from someone, and even though I don't agree with it, they had a right to teach it to him. Hatred is not illegal. We all have different moral standards and we do not have the right to force our beliefs on anybody else. I long for the day when people will treat each other with kindness and respect.


letomayo 9 years, 4 months ago

my last comment was deleted because I mentioned Sanford's article on the Black Brotherhood and his not going to talk to them personally?? or I mentioned the paper's coverage of the Rainbow people and expressed my belief the Pilot needs to think of it's own predjudices?

That's not allowed under free speech?


mud 9 years, 4 months ago

rfj0401' since the jury found he acted in self defense I don't understand why the threatening kids were not charged with harassment. After all, the law is the law. If the white kid was cornered in the gym would he be considered a victim of harassment?

Another bold editorial from the pilot.


dave reynolds 9 years, 4 months ago

good point mud..but copyboy wont cowboy up freedom of speach.the first amendment.use them to your advanage..right copyboy..please list the names of the abusers in this case..or do they have some influence over you..you ran Randells name now run their name once again cowboy up or are you really a copyboy


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