Riverhead’s newly reorganized Anti-Bias Task Force came face-to-face with a shocking racial bias incident at its first meeting Monday, where they heard details of the incident from the family of children who were assaulted and called a racial slur at a Riverhead High School football game earlier this month.
Ryan Scott and Tiffany Beck, whose children were involved in the incident that took place on Sept. 9, said they are not satisfied with how Riverhead school administration is handling the aftermath of the incident. Members of the Anti-Bias Task Force, a Riverhead Town group created to address prejudice and intolerance in the community, looked to reassure the family and pledged their support.
Scott was with her children and her nieces, who are Black, on school grounds attending the Riverhead Blue Waves football game. Scott’s children, six and five, and Beck’s children, six and 11, were on the playground near the football field, the parents said, and were pushed down and called the N-word by an all-white group of teenages — two Riverhead students and one 18-year-old woman. Beck’s daughter, 11, witnessed the whole thing, Beck said. Scott said she noticed the incident occur from a distance, confronted the perpetrators, and was called slurs and other derogatory terms by both the woman and one of the Riverhead students.
“[My niece] looks me in my face and goes, ‘Aunt Ryan. These kids called us losers. They call this the B-word. They called us MF. They call us the N-word, and they pushed Adrian Jr. the hardest.’ My son was in his first week of kindergarten,” Scott said.
“And you know what? I walked over to that playground calmly — I could have lost my mind — and I sat there and I confronted those children,” Scott said, before describing the slurs and other derogatory comments they made towards her.
Robert Brown of Riverside, the great-grandfather of the children and the host of various community programs in the school district, spoke in front of the Riverhead Board of Education about the incident last week and called for accountability for the Riverhead students involved. School board members, including one who was at the football game when the incident took place, expressed support for increased school programming to combat bias.
During Monday’s Anti-Bias Task Force meeting — the first since its leadership and membership was shaken up by the Town Board — the group voted unanimously to write a letter to the Riverhead Central School District reflecting the concerns of Beck, Scott and other people who spoke at the meeting, but not before a more than hour long conversation took place about the incident.
“I have to teach my kids daily life skills: how to brush their teeth, how to tie their shoes, please and thank you,” Scott said. “I should not have to sit down and have a conversation with my five and six-year-old about racism and why some kid felt the need — it was okay — to push my son off of his feet.”
Scott said she doesn’t feel safe in Riverhead. “And that’s a problem.”
“[I] try to keep my children very diverse. We don’t see color in our family. That’s not how it works,” Scott said. “And I had to sit my five and six year old down and explain to them you know what, we’re a black family. And at the end of the day, yes, you will be called the N-word. It’s not the first time and it’s not going to be the last time. But words can’t kill you. You’ll be fine. Mommy will always be here to protect you.”
“But I’m gonna tell you this. They put their hands on my children and this is the problem,” Scott said. “This is not just racism and bias, now it’s physical. It’s violence.”
There has been little communication from Riverhead Central School District officials about the incident to Scott and Beck said. They said it appears the district does take the situation seriously.
“I have a six year old who is afraid to go to school because she’s afraid of being bullied,” Beck said. “And no one has called me. I had to call the superintendent today and get an appointment to speak to him, but he does not take this whole serious situation seriously. I feel personally, my kids don’t feel protected.”
Another issue raised was the behavior of Riverhead security guards. Scott said the security guards did not act on the verbal assault she endured from the teenagers. A security guard, Scott said, suggested the family get off the premises. “No. Call the police. Call their parents,” she said, referring to the teenagers. “Do something. He did nothing.”
“The security at the school isn’t caring for our children,” Beck said. “I had one of the security guards look my 11-year-old in the face on that playground, while her sister was being pushed by an 18-year-old and a 14- [or] 16-year-old, and he turned his back on her and started watching the game.“
Council Member Ken Rothwell, the Town Board liaison to the Anti-Bias Task Force, suggested the group recommend sensitivity training for security guards in the school district to better deal with future incidents. He said security guards should make students feel safe and secure.
Scott said she intends to press charges against the non-student involved in the incident, an 18-year-old woman. Scott said she has continued to be harassed by the woman on social media after the incident occurred.
“She needs to be reprimanded as an adult and tried as an adult,” Scott said. “You know what, the other kid, he put his hands on my son. He’s 14 years old. I don’t want to ruin the rest of his life. Let’s be clear, I’m not malicious. But he needs something. I don’t know if he needs community service. I don’t care if he has to go to a facility for a couple of weeks. Something. He needs to learn something.”
Riverhead Town Police were at the football game and responded to the incident, the school district said. Scott said she attempted to get a police report on the incident today but was told by the department’s records office that a report wasn’t available.
“[Records] said…the lieutenant was not happy with the incident report because he felt like he was too vague and he’s making him rewrite it,” Scott said.
A call to Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller requesting more details on the incident and for a copy of the police incident report went unanswered today.
Mark McLaughlin, the task force’s chairperson, suggested implementing sensitivity and bias training in the school district for its children and their parents. In statements since the incident occurred, school district officials said the district will “enhance its programming related to racial relations,” and meet with the Anti-Bias Task Force and the Heart of Riverhead Civic Association.
“This task force needs to open up a line of communication and talk directly with the school,” Rothwell said. “We need to, I think, as a group here, to maybe try to create some type of ramification to make things better, or share ideas towards what’s the best way to proceed forward…”
Also in the meeting was Emily Sanz, a school district director leading its diversity, equity and inclusion and community outreach efforts. She said she would take back notes on the meeting to district administration.
“I will relay what I hear to the school district. And again, our district should have a zero tolerance policy on this kind of behavior,” Sanz said. “I appreciate you coming here because it’s hard to talk about a situation like this. So I appreciate you sharing this openly in this room, and I’m here to listen.”
On Monday, the school district issued an official statement on the incident.
“What we currently know, based on our investigation into this incident, is that there was an altercation between the two Riverhead students and the non-Riverhead individual and the parents of the young children at the playground,” the district said in a letter signed by Superintendent Augustine Tornatore.
“Based on a review of the video footage from the Pulaski playground, it appeared words were being exchanged,” the statement continued. “The students then relocated themselves to the stands at the football field, with the adults involved in the Pulaski interaction following. According to several individuals who witnessed the ongoing interaction in the stands, racial slurs were voiced, as well as defamatory gestures being exhibited towards the adults. Riverhead Town Police, already stationed at the stadium for the game, became involved and filed a report.”
Tornatore said in the letter that the investigation into the incident started the week following the game and is currently “ongoing.” “Based on the results of the District’s investigation, any disciplinary action warranted by those findings will be taken. In accordance with student privacy laws, that information cannot and will not be shared publicly,” the letter says.
McLaughlin said a letter will be drafted by the Anti-Bias Task Force to the school district and superintendent about the issues raised at the meeting.
“I’m grateful that all of you have come in today to share your thoughts, because sometimes, I will tell you, that I come in here and I go: ‘Life is good in Riverhead. And you know what? Clearly there’s work that we need to do,” Rothwell said. “And so we need to address it. so we make sure that that’s true for everyone from all walks of life, that life will be good here in Riverhead. But it starts here today.“
The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.