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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended October 20, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 18Oct00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Is Arizona Mormon Family Victim or Racist?

WINSLOW, ARIZONA -- A Mormon family in Winslow, Arizona claims it is trying to address hazing that has gone too far, only to attract charges that they are racist. Joe Hancock took action after his son, who is white, was abused by other athletes at Winston High School, including a popular African-American basketball player and other black and hispanic athletes. In return, he is being called a racist and a local civil rights activist has called for a state investigation.

Hancock's son was one of at least 10 underclassmen hazed by a group of seven upperclassmen, six of whom are either African-American or hispanic. According to Hancock, their hazing crossed the line into abuse, including acts like inserting objects into the rectums of the victims. But the families of the defendants claim that while wrong, their acts were simply horseplay, similar to what happens elsewhere and what has happened at Winslow High for years.

After learning of the way his son was treated, Hancock approached other parents about the incidents, and soon parents of 10 victims had filed charges against the seven youths and added a lawsuit against the school district, even though Hancock sits on the District's Board of Education. But after the charges were filed, the defendants and a local civil rights activist publicized claims that Hancock brought the charges as part of a racist vendetta.

The claims of racism focus on Hancock's niece, who dated one of the defendants, Stephen Garnett Jr., son of the town's interim Police Chief, basketball star and a former student body president. The Garnett family says that when their son started dating Hancock's niece, they were told that members of the Hancock family weren't happy with the interracial relationship.

But the Hancock family claims that they are far from racist. They long ago adopted and raised two non-Caucasian children, and had attempted to adopt two other children of African-American/Navajo descent, but were thwarted by the Navajo Nation. Joe Hancock says that the relationship with his niece wasn't a problem, "It wasn't a problem for me. But I can't speak for the rest of the family since I just don't know what they thought about that."

In spite of the racist charges, Winslow is known as one of the most integrated places in the state. It has large populations of both Whites and Hispanics, and hundreds of Native American students come to the high school from the nearby Navajo Reservation. And its African-American presence not only had Garnett elected as Student Body President last year, but another African-American was elected again this year.

But Dominique Chavez, the local civil rights advocate publicizing the claims, says that Winslow is also dominated by one group. "The Anglo-Mormon community is a very powerful force in Winslow, controlling jobs, city government and the schools," she said. Because she believes that the defendants, who include a cousin and a nephew, are being targeted by the "Anglo-Mormon" community, she has asked the Arizona Attorney General's Office for an investigation. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office declined to confirm or deny any investigation.

Meanwhile, Navajo County Attorney Melvin Bowers Jr. says that the allegations of racism are ridiculous. "All I can say is look at the racial mix of the victims. You have Anglo kids and Hispanic kids and Native American kids. This case just doesn't break down so easily along lines that some people want it to."

Hancock is also disputing claims that he "recruited" other victims. "I went to about five different places and said, 'I have reason to believe that your son has been assaulted in school,' " Hancock said. "As far as the lawsuit, it always sounds like people are trying to gouge for money. But our intention is to bring about change in the school district, and my family didn't become a part of the suit until the end."

But the charges have led the Hancock family to fear for their lives. This summer several young people with loudspeakers drove by their home before dawn one morning yelling obscenities. Fliers have been passed around town urging a boycott of Hancock's electrical contracting firm and other Hancock family businesses. Because Hancock's roots go back to the Mormon families that founded the town, relatives own all sorts of businesses in town. "I made Joe go out and get more life insurance," said Hancock's wife, Leoni.

The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced today, facing up to one year in the county jail. But many people in Winslow say that the charges should never have been brought. A look at yearbooks from the past shows repeated references to similar hazings, as students remember their most embarrasing moments as objects being stuck up their rectums. Phoenix attorney Barbara Brown, who represents the defendants, says that this kind of hazing simply went on at Winslow High. "What these (hazing defendants) did was within the norms of this school," Brown said. "There's a definite need here for more supervision, and they need to spell out clearly what acceptable behavior is."


Hazing scandal divides railroad city, old friends
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 17Oct00 D2
By Mark Shaffer: Arizona Republic


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