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Students open dialogue after racist tweets targeted Garfield basketball players, cheerleaders

Garfield High School defeated Issaquah as they faced off for the fourth time this year at the WIAA State Basketball Tournament Friday, but that wasn't the biggest headline between the two teams this week.

It was after Garfield and Issaquah's third boys basketball matchup on February 21st that online trash talk went over the line into hate speech. Images and tweets circulated on social media featuring members of the Garfield basketball team labeled with racial slurs.

"They made statements such as 'the mistake was when Abraham Lincoln freed you guys,'" said senior Garfield cheerleader Mikayla Brooks. "It was really sad and hurtful."

Issaquah's principal Andrea McCormick confirmed that multiple students were disciplined for the posts. She also emphasized that none of the Issaquah basketball team was determined to be involved.

Seattle Police are reviewing the posts to see if they constitute a bias crime of malicious harassment under Washington State law.

On Thursday night, both Garfield and Issaquah were at the Tacoma Dome for their first round games in the state tournament.

Principal McCormick said members the Issaquah ASB took the opportunity to approach Garfield with an apology.

"Our students went over to Garfield High School students and decided to reach out and exchange contact information so we can follow up with them after the playoff season is over." She explained they plan to "Talk about how we repair that relationship and reassure them that the comments that were made on Twitter were not at all representative of our student body or our community."

Lalah Muth is a cheerleader and President of the Garfield Black Student Union. She said the Issaquah and Garfield students did have to work through some initial awkwardness during their Thursday conversation.

"We were standing there, and it just seemed like, 'Should we be mad, should we be ok? What should we do?' But literally right after the handshake, it was like, 'ok, we obviously can do this,'" Muth said. "They were super excited about linking up with us and reaching out, getting together and doing some things."

Muth says the real work will start next week, when the basketball season is over.

"They apologized to the person who was also directly offended by some of the derogatory Tweets. After the game we linked up a little later through text messages and talked about what would be the best option to go forward," said Muth.

"Long term we want to make sure we have these conversations about appropriate use of the internet as well as hate speech, and how it's definitely not ok," said Principal McCormick.

Laylah Muth addressed her emotional journey since first hearing about the racist tweets.

She said initially, "I was honestly kind of like the fans, like ‘Oh, we definitely need to play you guys and have some signs out and make sure you can't mess with us,'" she laughed. "But now, right after the game last night, it was like a big door opened. Obviously this is not how the whole school feels. They're clearly taking action on it. And they're taking it seriously. So I feel a lot better."

And Brooks is likewise hopeful: "I want the conversations to keep going. If we ever play them again we can know that it's just a friendly rivalry, and not a racial matter."

Also Friday, Issaquah Superintendent Ron Thiele sent an apology email to Seattle Superintendent Jose Banda.

It said, in part, "The actions of these few individuals does not represent the values of our Issaquah School District community and we genuinely apologize to the students and the families at Garfield High."

Related:
Garfield High players, cheerleaders targeted with racist social media posts

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Libby Denkmann is producer of KIRO Radio's The Ron & Don Show (weekdays 3-7). Libby is always on the run - literally.
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