About 75 people gathered Thursday night to offer support and plan a community response after a racially charged incident a month ago left a biracial Chico family under emotional siege.
The group vowed to confront what they called an intolerant undertow lurking below the surface in the otherwise serene university town.
Speakers called for changes in school curriculum, diversity training and a multimedia campaign to promote understanding and tolerance. They also urged individuals to speak up and peacefully intervene when the situation warrants.
The effort comes after a long simmering dispute over litter and loud music between a local family and several Chico High students boiled over Jan. 26.
While several details remain in dispute about that day, Jean Newson, Kelly Butler-McGriff and Malik McGriff said four students rolled up on their home near the school around noon that day with a large confederate flag flapping from a pole on the back of a brown Isuzu Trooper.
According to the family’s account, a heated discussion turned ugly when they ordered the students to park their vehicle elsewhere. At least one allegedly responded with a racial epithet directed at Kelly and her 3-year-old. Police and school officials responded almost immediately, but the McGriffs and Newson were unsatisfied with the response, saying officials essentially took no action.
“That night, there’s that same flag on the back of that truck, staked right in our yard,” Kelly Butler-McGriff said. "And I called the police a second time to come out. Three officers respond. What he said was, ‘What does this flag mean to you?’ This flag means to me that somebody’s threatening my family’s life. That’s what this flag means to me.”
School officials conducted their own investigation and found some differences. Dave Scott, assistant superintendent of the Chico Unified School District, said students denied using epithets and said the vehicle and rebel flag were near, but not in front of the McGriffs home. Also in dispute is a reported confrontation between the students and three other men immediately after words were exchanged with the McGriffs. Scott said two students fled, while the other two were physically attacked. One wound up with a concussion.
Scott said the incident is being used as a teachable moment on avoiding conflict and on balancing First Amendment freedoms with civility and responsibility.
At Thursday’s meeting several people recounted incidents of being harassed with caustic racial insults, suggesting such incidents are not an aberration. The group plans to meet again March 9.