For the second week in a row, on Friday, May 24, a gathering of students, parents and supporters rallied outside Malibu High School in response to a viral video showing an altercation between students outside the school earlier this month.
In the video, which begins in the midst of a confrontation on an outdoor basketball court behind Malibu High, one student in a group of middle school students is seen shouting at a student in another, smaller group.
It was not clear how the incident began or which students instigated the conflict.
As the confrontation grows more heated, one child in a group of white students is shown spitting and yelling slurs, profanities and threats at another child in a smaller group of black students. The white student eventually threatens that he could have “10 dudes” kill the black student.
That confrontation resulted in disciplinary action taken by the school—though, for privacy reasons, the district will not elaborate on the degree of punishment. It also resulted in two students—the black student in the video and his twin brother—being pulled from school by their mother over concerns for their safety.
In the weeks since the May 8 incident, the video has appeared across social media, raising concerns in the Malibu community and beyond about how the school district, sheriff’s department and parents are handling the situation—and what it may reveal about tensions in the community few acknowledge.
Friday’s gathering was small, with just about a dozen participants, though everyone there was holding signs and eager to speak to the press about issues they perceived in the school and community at large. Three of the protestors who appeared at Malibu High School on Friday were Pepperdine students, there on behalf of the Pepperdine Black Student Association, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, and Rotary International, Pepperdine Rotaract.
“I think there’s a lot of underlying issues in the Malibu community that are not always addressed,” one of the Pepperdine students, Matthew Paster, said, adding that it seemed many people would “rather have it swept under the rug.”
“These issues and racism still exist in America,” fellow Pepperdine student Eric Johnson-Greer added. “People need to understand, these issues—racism—still exist. It’s harmful. We are all human; all should see each other as human beings. We’re here not to shame kids for their actions; we need to change and embrace each other.”
For Marianne Bema, the mother of the student being spat on and threatened in the video, it is not the white students in the video who are at fault—she is frustrated the school administration has not taken more decisive action to defend her sons.
According to Bema, who spoke on the phone to The Malibu Times Friday, she was not informed by school administrators as to why her son came home with a one-day suspension; it was not until after she reached out to the high school that she was informed of the altercation. (For the school’s part, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District spokesperson Gail Pinsker wrote in an email that “I can confirm that she has spoken with [Superintendent] Dr. [Ben] Drati, [Malibu Pathway Director] Mr. [Isaac] Burgess and school site admin and this concern has been raised.”)
Later in the evening of May 8, and again a few days later, Bema made an effort to file a police report of the death threats her son received; both times, she said, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies refused, telling her the threats were not serious. After her second attempt at filing a report, a deputy told her they would be willing to start an investigation.
From there, Bema said, the school did not do much until the video was posted on social media; at that point, members of the student body began organizing the first rally, which took place in the morning of Wednesday, May 15.
That was when, Bema said, the school started to really react.
According to Pinsker, “The school has engaged all students in restorative justice practices that has [included] small group restorative circles and a school-wide assembly last week.”
Pinsker said the conversation is ongoing: “Students and staff are engaged in conversations around campus culture and improvement to ensure that all students may enjoy a safe school environment.”
Parents at the rally on Friday said they felt the administration’s efforts were tone-deaf.
The “small group restorative circle” that Pinsker mentioned rubbed some parents the wrong way, including Bema and Carol Simpson, the mother of a mixed-race child who was called into the meeting.
“The problem is, they called for people of color, which is confusing... I asked my daughter, is there a flesh test?” Simpson said. “They singled them out in that way.”
After that, the school held an assembly for the student body, led by Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati. According to Simpson, students at the school considered the assembly trite.
“My daughter left laughing, thinking, ‘Now [Principal] Dr. Nye thinks she’s solved the problem of racism,’” she said.
Another student at the rally, a 10th-grade girl who asked not to be named, said to her it “seemed like they were defending the bullies, not the victims.”
“It was like, ‘We have to do better,’” she added. “I don’t think it did much to help, it just dragged it on for the students.”
For at least one mother at the rally, the issue with the school’s handling of the situation goes beyond race.
“Some people don’t see,” she said. “They think maybe it’s an isolated incident, but we know better. It’s not just race—it’s kids taking kid stuff to the next level, and the school’s treatment of it.”
When it comes to death threats, Bema said, there is no reason the district should not be taking them very seriously.
“If it were my son [who made a death threat], or if it were a Middle East-looking child, he would be somewhere in jail. It would have been a very big issue,” she said. “My main concern is, I would like the adults and the school to respond to any incident the same way.
“I’m not saying these children are racist, no,” she continued. “The school and the administration were racist. They did not take it seriously.”
Pinsker said the district is constantly working to improve its policies and practices, and will continue to do so in light of this latest conflict.
“Whenever an unfortunate incident occurs, the school site and district investigate and review all aspects of what happened and work to restore the environment,” Pinsker wrote. “We are looking into the lack of supervision during the time the incident occurred. Our policies and practices are always evolving and under review for changes to better reflect our district goals with regard to student safety on campus.”
Representatives from the sheriff’s department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the story by Tuesday, May 28.