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Racist Trump Supporters Taunt Latino High School Basketball Players

Donald Trump's influence can be seen in the latest example of his supporters targeting people of color

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses a rally at Millington Regional Jetport on February 27, 2016 in Millington, Tennessee. / AFP / Michael B. Thomas (Photo credit should read MICHAEL B. THOMAS/AFP/Getty Images) — AFP/Getty Images
Feb 29, 2016 at 1:19 PM ET

Republican presidential nominee frontrunner Donald Trump has become sufficiently synonymous with racial intolerance that his surname was used to taunt Latino students and players at an Iowa high school basketball game.

A few weeks after Trump’s runner-up finish in the state’s Republican caucus, Dallas Center-Grimes High School students chanted “Trump” to jeer rival school Perry High at a playoff basketball game. After the game—which Perry won 57-50—a few Dallas Center-Grimes students rephrased the jeer as “U-S-A! U-S-A!” One of Perry’s Latino students replied, “Hey, I was born here too,” according to Perry principal Dan Marburger, who witnessed the exchange.

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“This isn’t anything different, other than that the political nature of this year has changed, and I think our kids are kind of reacting to the fear that is out there amongst them and their parents,” Marburger said of Perry’s student body, which is 48 percent non-white. “I can’t imagine the conversations that happen in the family setting when we get this rhetoric from presidential candidates and representatives and things like that.”

There are two or three racially-charged incidents per year, Marburger said, including a recent instance of his school being called “Little Mexico” on Instagram, but the rhetoric has changed in this presidential election cycle. As the earliest voting state, Iowa was bombarded with ads and speeches.

“These are impressionable 14-to-18-year-old kids,” Marburger said. “We’ve got some that think it’s O.K. to say things like that, and we’ve got some that are in fear of the things that are being said. I think that’s a sad commentary of what’s going on in our politics right now.”

One Perry student, junior Kevin Lopez, approached administrators the next day and said, “We would like this to stop. It happens too often. How do we do that? How do I do it right?”

Lopez contacted local media and wrote an editorial in The Perry Chief about this “new derogatory chant, ‘Trump.’”

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“It is a chant said to intimidate and discriminate our Latino/Hispanic students and it is a chant that is fueled by racism,” Lopez wrote, noting this was the fourth instance of this taunt being heard. He added, “We at Perry High School acknowledge and are aware of the fact that people are entitled to their own political views and that they are to be respected, but when a name is chanted in a racial manner and used to intimidate us is when the line is drawn.”

Perry is a town of 7,500 situated about 25 minutes northwest of Des Moines, which makes it a commuter community for some and also home to many working in the local pork plant owned by Tyson Foods, Inc. Most of the town’s immigrants are Latino, Marburger said, hailing primarily from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Dallas Center-Grimes (DC-G) wrote a letter of apology and sent several of its student leaders to meet with Perry High counterparts. More than two dozen representatives of DC-G attended Perry’s next playoff basketball game to cheer them on. Marburger was appreciative of the gesture, making sure to emphasize that the DC-G community was full of “good people” and that their schools have had a long and positive relationship. (Perry won that game, too, to clinch the District 7 title; they play on Monday night for a spot in the Class 3A state tournament.)

DC-G activities director Steve Watson, who helped stop the chant, said school administrators are meeting with each grade one at a time in hopes of having a constructive discussion instead of a lecture “to make sure they understand that things are personal and offensive.”

“This one really stepped over the line because of the racist issue and because of the sensitivity of the political campaign right now,” Watson said. “Dallas Center-Grimes is a good school,” he added. “We have great kids. What 10 or 15 of our kids do in a 10-to-15 second span can’t frame our perception for a long time, so we’ve got to go out and change that. We’re educating our kids, we’re talking to our kids.”

DC-G’s coach was among those to share his thoughts on “a tough week.”

It has been a tough week at DCG. I am proud to be teaching and coaching in a district that values diversity, tolerance…

Posted by Joel Rankin on Thursday, February 25, 2016

Some of DC-G’s students also rose up in response.

Marburger described the incident as “one of those things where kids say something before they think” and magnanimously added, “We’ve all made mistakes, so we’re going to move from here.”

That seems possible for these small Iowa towns, but may not be so easy nationally. Especially when the bigotry of a leading presidential candidate continues to dominate American political discourse and foster hatred that won’t spare anyone, not even some kids playing basketball.

Hope Hicks, the Trump campaign’s communications manager, did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.