ASHTABULA — When Izaiah Harris and four of his Edgewood High School football teammates decided to kneel during the national anthem two weeks ago, he knew some people might have a negative reaction.
Throughout the past few months, the 16-year-old has seen hateful messages, police brutality and riots, as well as media coverage of professional athletes kneeling or refusing to play.
Still, he and four teammates took a knee before two of the past three games. Last Friday, they planned to kneel again but, at his mother’s request, Izaiah did not. Instead, he and his four teammates stood, but locked arms in solidarity.
“I asked him not to kneel because it was Sept. 11 and things have been said,” said his mother, Jessica Malinkey.
Those things include the N-word, vulgarity and threats to hang her son on a Facebook post from a name Malinkey doesn’t recognize. A Facebook search of the name shows no such person. The message was posted on Malinkey’s personal Facebook page, which she has since deleted.
Some parts of the message cannot be printed in the Star Beacon because of its offensive message, but it shows a photo of Izaiah in his football uniform. The remainder of the message to his mother says, “He will be saying, ‘I can’t breathe,’ while I am drinking a beer and you’re bleeding watching it all.”
Malinkey reported the post to the Ashtabula Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Back in the old days they used to hang African Americans,” she said. “It’s a hate crime.”
“Yes, the FBI has been made aware of the allegations and we are in communications with local law enforcement,” said FBI spokesperson, Vicki Anderson. “It is our standard procedure to not confirm or deny possible ongoing investigations.”
Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell said his officers also are investigating it.
“The profile used on Facebook has been deleted,” he said. “It has all the red flags of a fake profile.”
In response to the post, Ashtabula City Councilwoman Octavia Harris, who represents ward 4, will host an online event, “Racial Injustice and Solutions,” at 6 p.m. Thursday. Participants are urged to discuss racial injustices and possible solutions.
Liz Penna from Ashtabula Chapter of the NAACP contacted Malinkey on Monday, and will accompany her when she meets with school officials Wednesday.
“The NAACP and everyone at the school have been very supportive,” Malinkey said.
The threatening Facebook post is not the first time Izaiah and his teammates have been harassed because of their stand against racism, Malinkey said.
“They were called the N-word when they traveled to Perry and people yelled at them,” she said. “One of his teammates, who is white, kneeled during the national anthem before the Geneva game and he was kicked in the back. ‘That’s what you get for kneeling,’ the assailant said.”
Despite the threats of lynching and name calling, the movement San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started four years ago is growing. Now it’s reached the local high school level and Buckeye schools will not put up with racial threats, said Superintendent Patrick Colucci.
“We take any racial threats extremely seriously,” Colucci said. “We will not tolerate this at school or school events.”