A White student at a Catholic high school in South Louisiana has been charged with a hate crime for throwing cotton at a Black student and whipping him with a belt earlier this month, local authorities said on Wednesday.
The incident was captured on video at the school, and the 15-year-old student was arrested on Tuesday. His name has not been released.
“When we received the complaint, we immediately put our detectives on it,” said Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Tim Soignet in a statement.
“They worked through the weekend so we could get to this point.”
The exchange occurred on March 9th at Vandebilt Catholic High School in Houma, Louisiana—the seat of a diocese currently headed by one of the nation’s few Black ordinaries, the soon-departing Bishop Shelton Fabre.
Despite the diocese’s relatively high Black Catholic percentage, the victim is reported to be one of only a small number of African-American students at the school.
“We will continue to pray for our school community as a whole, that we not only get through this together but that we each learn a valuable lesson from what has taken place,” said his parents, Robert and Brandi Sandolph, in a statement released by the diocese on March 10th.
The video of the incident shows the perpetrator approaching the victim from behind in a cafeteria, where he was seated with a group of other African-American students.
He then throws a handful of cotton balls and hits the student repeatedly with a belt, as several other students are heard laughing. The victim subsequently stands up and pushes the assailant out of the room before the video cuts off.
The victim was reportedly sent home after the incident, and dual investigations from the diocese and local police ensued.
The former claimed in their statement last week that “[the] actions by a few are not consistent with the values and mission of our school”, though it is unclear whether any other students are under investigation.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana called the incident an “inexcusable injustice”, and the local NAACP head Jerome Boykin also spoke out.
“It's really unfortunate that in these days and times, African Americans still have to endure these racist incidents, especially in our school system,” he said last Thursday.
“Unfortunately, racism is alive and well in this parish and in this country.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).