Racist incident at a basketball game between Capital and River Ridge

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Exterior photo of Capital High School from 2019.

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A Capital High School (Olympia) student was captured on video using profane language and shouting a racial slur at a River Ridge (Lacey) player during an inter-school basketball game on January 14.

The incident was first reported by mynorthwest.com. Capital students can be heard in the video making monkey noises and referring to a River Ridge basketball player as a “gorilla”.

The insult was directed towards the player wearing the No.3 shirt, which the school’s sports website lists as Ahmari Steplight. Steplight’s father, Qayi, took to Facebook to express his anger over the incident.

“For those of you who don’t know. My son was targeted in the River Ridge High School (Lacey, Wash.) vs. Capital High School basketball game,” the post read. “The student body at Capital High School was shouting racial epithets during the game directed at my son. One of the students recorded a video and shared it on social media and even tagged my son in the video.

Olympia School District Superintendent Patrick Murphy released a statement late Wednesday night in light of the incident.

“As superintendent, it is my responsibility to work with our principals and staff to ensure that where student actions cause harm, there is accountability, learning and opportunity to restore and make amends with those who were injured,” reads the part of the statement. “This incident has been promptly investigated, disciplinary action has been taken and restoration work is underway.”

The full statement, which can be found on the Olympia School District website, never specifically says what type of discipline was issued against the student. In an email to The News Tribune, a district spokesperson said the district was unable to share specific discipline information due to confidentiality.

Qayi Steplight’s father was in the military and a move brought the family to Lacey in 1994.

“There weren’t a lot of black students back then,” Steplight said. “When my parents were looking for a school, everyone said to go to River Ridge. That’s where (all the black students) went.

Steplight said that as a black teenager he always felt racism when he went to Olympia.

“There is a line drawn in the sand: Thurston County then Olympia. If you go to Olympia you don’t know what you are going to get. You know you’re not welcome. Every time we attend football games, basketball games, baseball games, whatever, we get consistent stories from families about how we are treated.

“They used to paint their faces black at the Capital and Olympia games. Everyone seemed to agree. The parents there, the staff at the top of the bleachers, nobody ever says anything. … Everyone is too scared to say or do anything. I’ve been around enough families and kids, people feel like nothing will ever happen.

When he was in high school, Steplight’s parents bought him a BMW as a reward for having a 4.0 grade point average. He said he was stopped 15 times in a week by Olympia police and searched his car.

“It was my first encounter with the police and how things are going in this area,” Steplight said.

When asking his son about the incident at the basketball game, Ahmari more or less ignored the question.

“He said, ‘That’s just what they call us,'” Steplight said.

Capital has had issues with student behavior at basketball games in the past. Last spring, the The “Capital Mens Basketball” Twitter account tweeted that “due to the continued unacceptable behavior of our students, both during and after our basketball games, no students will be permitted to attend our home basketball games for the remainder of the season.”

A school district spokesperson declined to comment on the situation last spring.

Steplight said he met with Capital’s administration, who issued a heartfelt apology to him in person. But he thinks the district isn’t doing enough.

“When I walk into the gymnasium at Capital, Olympia, or Black Hills, I hardly ever see people of color working at those schools,” Steplight said. “I think it starts there. To have more educators in these schools of different races. I feel like these kids in this district need to be taught by someone of color.

Steplight also believes that students of all races should have safe spaces where they can talk about race issues and talk about their experiences.

This story was originally published January 20, 2022 10:20 a.m.

Jon Manley covers high school sports for The News Tribune. A McClatchy President’s Award winner and a graduate of Gonzaga University, Manley has been covering the South Sound sports scene since 2013. Born and raised in Tacoma.

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