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Thursday, March 30, 2023

On Monday, our editorial covered a very touchy topic. We decided to evaluate how a beloved TV show, “Bob’s Burgers,” was able to create a genuinely funny autistic character. It flirted with notions of comedic permissibility and how to identify that thin line between funny and disrespectful.

But something not so funny surfaced yesterday: Chase Coleman is a nearly nonverbal autistic 15-year-old high-school freshman from Syracuse, New York. He’s also black. While running in a 5K for his school a few weeks ago, Coleman was assaulted by a stranger. He took a wrong turn, got lost and, while trying to find his way back to the race, was pushed to the ground. Witnesses claim an older white male got out of his car, pushed Coleman to the ground and shouted, “Get out of here.” This man was later identified as Rochester, New York, resident Martin MacDonald. The incident report said MacDonald was worried Coleman was “going to mug his wife and take her purse.” When Coleman’s mother initially decided to press charges, her arrest warrant was denied. MacDonald would not be charged for second-degree harassment.

We don’t know where to begin with this story. MacDonald had no right to feel threatened in the first place. He had to get out of his car in order to push a nearly nonverbal student in a cross-country uniform to the ground. Not to mention, Coleman is about half the size of MacDonald. We here at the Alligator wonder how this confrontation would have happened had Coleman been a white student, an Asian student or, quite simply, not black. We’re positive this situation would not have turned out the way it did.

After the incident, Coleman stopped going to daily practices and did not compete in the final meet of the season. He turned in his jersey to his coach, who attempted to get Coleman to change his mind. He declined.

Coleman is a nearly nonverbal autistic student. For him to be engaged in a team environment in the first place was a massive success. But one attack by an aggressive racist on the minor undid all of that progress. Moreover, the fact that there wasn’t even an investigation into this case is shameful and disgusting. For MacDonald to walk away from this incident without any repercussions is unacceptable.

Since then, the story has caught wind and been made public, and the local authorities have re-submitted a warrant application for the arrest of MacDonald. Hopefully this time the court will decide to hear the case. But we must ask the court: Is this how we enforce justice? Is this how we treat our citizens? If we even decide to move forward as a society, must we crawl achingly on, dragging our weight behind us?

The political movements surrounding black equality in America are about more than the fact that more black people were killed in 2014 than were killed during the attacks on 9/11. They are about all of the subtle and overt forms of racism our society exhibits. As Gandhi said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” We’re not insinuating Coleman was weak. Actually, he’s quite brave. Hopefully we as a nation can encourage him to continue being brave and reclaim his spot on his cross-country team. Our nation is only as strong as our weakest link, and when one of those links is broken, we’re all broken.

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