It’s not uncommon to see youths engage in mortal combat with one another, especially in high school. With testosterone coursing through their veins like heroin, it sometimes doesn’t take much to prompt someone to lose their cool and throw a fist. Then more fists are thrown and ultimately what was once a location of relative calm becomes the site of adolescent bedlam.
One such event took place earlier this week in Heathsville, Va. Two football players, a freshman and a junior, got into fisticuffs over something that was probably incredibly stupid (as most reasons for teenage fights tend to be). But what makes this incident stand out isn’t just that one of the contenders was white while other was black, or that it was caught on camera, or that the slobber-knocker involved two members of the football team, but that when the fight was broken up, the white student’s mother grabbed the black student by his shirt, slapped him across the face, and accused him of calling her son a “nigger.”
The mother, Heather Lynn Sebra, has been charged with assault after pulling 14-year-old John Thomas, the black student, away from her son and slapping him. A protective order has also been served against her. Investigators also said a juvenile has been charged in relation to the incident, but at this time it is unconfirmed whether that juvenile is Ms. Sebra’s son.
According to John Thomas, the altercation began after he and another player on the football team spurned Ms. Sebra’s son when he tried to involve himself in their conversation. Ms. Sebra’s son walked away, embarrassed, but later came after Mr. Thomas, charging him from across the room. He quickly took Mr. Thomas down, slamming him several times while on the ground, then releasing a flurry of punches.
During the entire altercation, John Thomas did not strike back. He didn’t fight back against Ms. Sebra’s son. He didn’t fight back when adults broke up the fight. He didn’t strike back when Ms. Sebra slapped him. The only defense Mr. Thomas put up during the entire clip is a rebuttal — “What? Why would I call him a nigger?” — when Ms. Sebra accused him of doing just that.
The video has proved to be a disturbing one. It’s spreading over social media like wildfire, drawing ire from almost everyone who has seen it.
— Wiltshire (@SocialIssueNews) August 31, 2016
— Carlita Saint (@AngryKavanaugh) August 31, 2016
The video of the altercation has also had an impact on John Thomas’ mother. Nicole Thomas spoke with WTVR, Richmond’s regional CBS affiliate, about the incident and Heather Lynn Sebra:
“For this woman to restrain my son as she did by his shirt, and stick her finger in his face, after slapping him and chastising him for saying something he did not, how dare you? To abuse, berate, belittle, intimidate, and physically attack someone is disgusting. I think it needs to be addressed and think people need to be punished for it and held accountable.”
Northumberland High School Principal Dr. Travis Burns is also disturbed by what he saw from the altercation. He told WWBT, Richmond’s regional NBC affiliate, that he is “deeply concerned.” The school has taken action against both Mr. Thomas and Ms. Sebra’s son, as well as the student who filmed the incident.
Even though Ms. Sebra was ultimately charged with assault for the incident, what happened on that video is telling about how race influenced the outcome. It’s clear that John Thomas did not start the altercation between himself and Ms. Sebra’s son, as the latter charged him from across the room. Anyone in the room at the time even remotely paying attention would have had a clear view of what took place. John Thomas did not fight back, though he tried to get away. His lack of retaliation means that he cannot be blamed for starting it, at least when it comes to what was caught on video. When the fight was broken up, Ms. Sebra’s son was pulled away without incident and allowed to retrieve his hat before walking away, while Ms. Sebra grabbed John Thomas’ shirt, slapped him, and accused him of directing a racial slur toward her son. Ms. Sebra didn’t scold her son, even though he straight-up attacked another student. Instead, she slapped the student of color in the face and proceeded to scold and intimidate him.
Racism isn’t always out in the open. Sometimes, it’s a product of subliminal conditioning. There will be defenders of Ms. Sebra and her son, spouting soliloquies about high school arrogance, “boys being boys,” and a mother’s knee-jerk reaction to a violent incident involving her son. But a knee-jerk reaction doesn’t account for slaps and accusations, and it especially doesn’t account for the aggressor being a white woman who targeted a black high school student. “Boys being boys” doesn’t account for a white student charging a black student from across the room. High school arrogance doesn’t necessarily mean race was not the motivating factor.
If Ms. Sebra’s actions are reflective of her parenting, her son probably saw black too and reacted poorly. It is a very real possibility that this incident took place not solely because a high school student was embarrassed by another, but because the slight that kickstarted the whole thing was attributed to a young black male. While it may be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that skin color had everything to do with what happened to John Thomas that afternoon, the sequence of events fits the possibility, as does the location.
There is definitely too much here to automatically strike out the possibility that race motivated this incident.
Featured image is a screenshot from YouTube.