‘We’re just absolutely sick’: Racial epithet written on Bear River basketball coach’s car saddens, angers local administrators | TheUnion.com

‘We’re just absolutely sick’: Racial epithet written on Bear River basketball coach’s car saddens, angers local administrators

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

Friday night was supposed to be about Bear River’s close win over Colfax High School’s basketball team, a 67-64 thriller.

But a discovery after the game received much of the attention when Bear River High School basketball coach Ralph Lewis approached his car to find the N-word written across the back of his windshield, according to Colfax High School Principal Paul Lundberg.

Upon discovering the hateful message, Lewis, an African American, immediately notified his administrative team, according to Bear River High Athletic Director Scott Savoie. Bear River High School Vice Principal Cathy Peterson returned to help Lewis clean off his car, along with other attendees of the game.

A report was filed with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the incident as a hate crime, according to the office’s spokesperson. The identity of the suspect remains unknown.

“We will diligently investigate this incident and continue to fight racism, discrimination and intolerance at Colfax High School,” Lundberg wrote in a message that later was posted on Facebook over the weekend.

Colfax High is pursuing its own investigation of what happened, said Lundberg, the principal having received “hundreds of emails” from parents who are shocked and saddened about what occurred. Many of those messages included tips about a possible suspect, and inquired about how they could support Lewis.

“We’re just absolutely sick,” said Lundberg. “I haven’t thought about anything else this weekend except this.”

Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden agreed.

“I’m hurt, I’m upset, I’m angry (at) how morally reprehensible this is,” he said, adding “I would think that in this day and age that we would be past this.”

All administrators said they had not previously encountered an experience like this in Placer or Nevada counties or nearby areas.

“Even though our area is not necessarily very diverse,” said Savoie, “we play teams at our school that are (diverse), and I’d say that this is highly unusual.”

According to U.S. Census 2019 estimates, Nevada County is 93% white, and Placer County is 84% white.

INCIDENTS of local racism

In 2011, a racist event occurred at Condon Park. That same year, it was reported that a group of people previously left Nevada City “after experiencing repeated racist remarks.”

In 2014, the family of a local reporter was threatened by individuals at the Yuba River. The individuals told his family they would “sic their dog on them if they didn’t leave, yelling a racial slur, then demanding they go to another part of the river.” The reporter awoke the next morning “to more than 100 responses from people in the area apologizing for what happened to (his) family.”

In 2017, a young black man was walking in downtown Grass Valley when white people yelled the n-word repeatedly at him, reports state.

Bill Drake, with Communities Beyond Bias, said racism often stems from ignorance and an “inability to empathize with those who are harmed by it.”

“Racism can be picked up from the home, from peers, and from our society,” Drake said in an email.

Concerning Friday’s incident, McFadden said he wanted to ensure that first and foremost Lewis is okay.

“I think the national climate does makes you more on the lookout for things like this,” he said, “but also we as educators are better than we were 20-25 years ago in teaching tolerance and setting the expectations of tolerance and cultural awareness.”

The superintendent also noted the importance of reflection during this time: “We take a close look and see — are we doing enough? Do we need to be doing more?”

Lundberg said Colfax High has a three-day program, “Breaking Down the Walls,” in addition to other programs that are meant to create a safe and inclusive campus.

Mostly, he’s trying to focus on what unifies, not divides, students, teachers and administrators at his school. The principal wants both communities to come out of this better than before.

“I hope it brings us more together,” he said, allowing people to realize that “we belong to something larger than ourselves.”

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.


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