In Haddonfield, 'don't snitch' and denial over alleged racial slur that ended lacrosse season | Kevin Riordan

The ‘don’t snitch’ culture isn’t just an urban phenomenon.

Just ask the folks at Haddonfield Memorial High School — although they’re unlikely to tell you anything.

So far, neither the unidentified white player on the powerhouse varsity lacrosse team nor his enablers have publicly stepped up to ‘fess up about his reported use of a racial slur against a black female athlete from another high school.

After the May 1 incident,  a cone of silence descended almost immediately over Haddonfield High — a reflexive circling of the wagons by an image-conscious school seemingly as concerned about protecting reputations as protecting students.

Word got out anyway, thanks in large part to reporting by my colleague Melanie Burney.

A witness told Burney that a young man walking with about a half-dozen other boys’ lacrosse players told a Sterling High School girls’ track team member who was at Haddonfield for a meet to “move, N-word” and get out of his way.

The witness said that when she reported the incident to an assistant Haddonfield coach, other players laughed.

Last Friday, Haddonfield canceled the remainder of the boys’ lacrosse season after a school investigation failed to identify the player who made the offensive remark.

That decision by interim Superintendent David T. Lindenmuth stung because the top-ranked squad had been expected to be competitive at the state tournament level this year. He deserves credit for taking a strong stand.

Camera icon DAVID SWANSON
Interim superintendent David T. Lindenmuth

Meanwhile, focus groups and discussions have been held at the school. There’s been talk of more diversity and sensitivity training, which would seem advisable as well.

And on Monday, a protest announced by a student aggrieved about a supposed “lack of due process” for  and unnamed “injustices” against  the lacrosse team was announced and then abruptly aborted by the organizer(s). Perhaps it dawned on someone that holding a protest to claim victim status for lacrosse players was likely to be bad optics, particularly in this case.

After all, the players had been given several days to voluntarily come forward. None did.

But every last one of them reportedly told coaches they didn’t hear — much less say — the offensive word.

The mass denial might help keep the school and the community in denial — were it not for the fact that track team members from Haddon Heights High School, as well as Sterling, reported the incident to their coaches.

The fact that the players were wearing helmets at the time of the incident has evidently made it impossible for Haddonfield’s internal investigation to identify the alleged perpetrator.

I find it hard to believe that no one other than the young man himself  knows who he is.

Then again, “don’t snitch” can be a powerful inducement.

And I don’t find it hard to believe that some in the community would hope to cultivate doubt about what the young runner, her teammates, and other young girls’ track squad members who reported the incident heard.

The matter is under review by the Civil Rights Division of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, and by the NAACP.

The result of having no one willing to be held accountable is that pretty much everyone and everything can be thrown under the same blanket of blame.

Thus, a single young person’s cruel and belligerent remark can become an indictment of all.

“I don’t blame a whole town for the actions of a few,” said Ryk Lewis, a theater professional from Medford Lakes who’s directing a show at Haddonfield Plays and Players. “I wouldn’t call Haddonfield a hotbed of racism.”

But Lewis, who is black, said he also believes “saying racially stupid stuff aloud is becoming a pattern” in American life.

He cited his own experience Tuesday outside the Plays and Players building next to the borough’s Crows Woods athletic fields.

“Two kids drive by and one yells, ‘I’m calling the police,'” said Lewis, likening this to recent incidents elsewhere in which whites summoned law enforcement merely upon seeing of people of color going about their daily lives.

“The filters are off. The pretense is gone,” he said. “Ignorance no longer has shame.”

What he said reminded of a voicemail I got last September from a self-described  “white racist and proud of it.”

The woman, who said she was 86 years old, sounded as if she’d been stewing in bile for at least that long.

“It doesn’t matter who they are,” she said, referring to black people. “They’re [N-words]. That’s all they are.”

The desire to degrade another human being by using the vilest of slurs is certainly pathological.

It’s also pathetic.

The proud old racist didn’t give me her name.

Despite her purported pride, she chose to hide.