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Video captures Laguna Hills student shouting racist slurs at Black basketball player

Sabrina Brown, the mother of Makai Brown, addressed the Irvine City Council.
Sabrina Brown, the mother of Makai Brown, addressed the Irvine City Council Tuesday over racist slurs her son heard during a basketball game Friday night against Laguna Hills High School.
(City of Irvine)

Racist comments hurled at a Black high school basketball player during a recent game have prompted outrage and calls for reform in Orange County.

A video, posted to Instagram on Tuesday by the player’s mother, Sabrina Brown, starts with the player sinking a free throw during Friday’s game between his team, Portola High School, and Laguna Hills High School.

A spectator — identified by a district official as a Laguna Hills High School student — makes references to slavery and shouts, “Chain him up,” “Who let him out of his chains” and “He’s a monkey,” among other insults.

“You may believe that this is an isolated incident and would like to put this behind you, but we don’t have that option,” Brown told the Irvine City Council during a meeting Tuesday. “The color of our skin does not allow us that option.”

Brown was not immediately available for an interview but gave The Times permission to use her post.

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She said her son, Makai, was going through his Saturday morning routine of watching game film before practice.

“He came into my room STUNNED,” Brown wrote in the caption to her Instagram post, which had been viewed more than 75,000 times as of Wednesday morning. “What he heard directed 100% to him is contained in this video, but these disgusting, racist insults continued throughout the entire game footage. Needless to say, our family is up in arms.”

She accused the Laguna Hills boys basketball program of fostering “a culture of aggression, unsportsmanlike conduct and RACISM,” adding that the harmful behavior had to stop.

“My family was guarded, uneasy and on alert well before the video surfaced,” she told the City Council, adding that any punishment afforded to the student “won’t change the vile things that he felt comfortable enough to say — the vile things that were created by the culture at Laguna Hills, and made my family feel unsafe even before stepping foot into the game Friday night.”

Laguna Hills High is in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, and Portola High is part of the Irvine Unified School District.

Saddleback Valley schools Supt. Crystal Turner condemned the language heard in the video and said officials have taken action.

“After a thorough fact finding process that included review of the entire game footage and interviews with each individual verified as being near the attendee, it was determined that the unacceptable comments were made by a [Laguna Hills High] student,” she said in a statement.

The far right in Orange County remains a force and is building on a long history of extremism.

The student was counseled and disciplined, Turner said. Students who witnessed the incident were advised on their responsibility to “redirect such language” and immediately report it to school administrators.

School officials discussed the incident with players and coaches at practices, Turner said, and student government representatives and their advisor have discussed how to make changes.

The superintendent did not comment on David Yates, Laguna Hills’ head varsity basketball coach, but said “appropriate personnel actions, while required to remain confidential, have taken place.”

The Saddleback Valley Unified trustee who represents the high school could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan wrote on Twitter that the response from the Saddleback School District is “not good enough.”

“I will be sending out a letter demanding more,” she wrote. “I want to see action taken that sends a clear message to everyone that there are serious consequences to hate and racist speech. No mother should be brought to tears about the way her child is bullied.”

CIF Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod said he was not aware of the video until contacted by The Times.

For the record:

7:05 p.m. Jan. 26, 2022A previous version of this story said the CIF Southern Section would not impose discipline because the game wasn’t part of a CIF playoff. The Southern Section does not have jurisdiction over student behavior and discipline.

Wigod said he and his staff were in touch with both schools and offered their assistance, but the Southern Section would not impose sanctions or discipline because it does not have jurisdiction over individual student behavior, which is handled by member schools.

He condemned the comments heard in the video and said such language wasn’t acceptable at a game or anywhere.

Roughly 2% of the nearly 3.2 million people in Orange County are Black. However, they are frequently the most targeted group in hate crimes and incidents, which have been on the rise in the county and elsewhere.

State Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) said the basketball game incident is part of a larger trend in Orange County, “whether it’s racist comments at Board of Supervisor meetings or Nazi banners hung from our highway overpasses or a Ku Klux Klan rally.”

“It’s time for Orange County to get serious about doing the work and take a hard look about why these racist incidents keep happening,” Min added. “We can no longer turn a blind eye as the rest of the nation watches in disgust.”

Hate-motivated attacks that did not rise to the level of a crime — known as hate incidents — increased by 69%, driven largely by an 19-fold increase in attacks on Asians.

The comments at Friday night’s game are among several racist incidents at Orange County high schools and sporting events in recent years.

In May 2019, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District investigated a series of racist messages shared among young people, including students from Newport Harbor High School, in a private Instagram group.

One group member asked if anyone wanted a souvenir from a trip to Alabama and Mississippi, noting, “I’ll get you a real confederate flag.”

Another person in the group then asked: “Do they still sell black people down there?”

In September that year, racist slurs at a football game hosted by San Clemente High School against San Diego’s Lincoln High School sparked an investigation by officials at both campuses.

“Our students were subjected to anti-African American, anti-LatinX and anti-gay verbal abuse,” Lincoln High Principal Stephanie Brown wrote in a Facebook post. “African-American students in particular were told to go back to Africa.”

Brian Levin, director of Cal State San Bernardino’s Center on Hate and Extremism, said the student at the basketball game may have felt protected by being just a face in a crowd or was seeking some kind of thrill by making inflammatory statements.

But, he said, educators can turn this into a teachable moment for their students.

“One thing I think is really important is for the community to stand up and say ‘Guess what? You crossed a line and it’s not going to be tolerated,’” he said.

Times columnist Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.


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