By Dennis Kabatto – The African community in New York and across the United States of America are infuriated over the brutal beating of two Senegalese brothers and called “Ebola” by a group of about 15 schoolchildren at I.S. 318 Elementary School in Tremont, Bronx.
Ousmane Drame, the father of eighth-grader Pape Drame, 13, and sixth-grader Amadou Drame, 11 said his sons who were born in the United States returned from Senegal to New York to be with him.
According to their father, students at I.S. 318 where they are attending school quickly began insulting the boys with the name “Ebola.” After weeks of continued mockery, on October 24, a group of Amadou’s classmates started to hit and kicked him outside the schoolyard during lunch and when Pape came to his younger brother’s rescue, the students began to attack him as well.
“If they go to play in the gym, the kids tell them ‘Don’t touch the ball. If you touch the ball we will all get Ebola,’” adding that it wasn’t a fight, these boys were assaulted,” said Ousmane who immigrated to the United States 25 years ago.
Ousmane also called for a safety guaranty from school administrators and the police department that his sons will be physically and emotionally safe before they return to school.
The Department of Education (DOE) and the New York Police Department (NYPD) said they are investigating the beating. They also said that they have met with the family on Monday.
In an effort to address the attack, a coalition of community organizations including the Association of Senegalese in America, African Advisory Council and community leaders joined State Senator Bill Perkins for a press conference. Senator Perkins categorized the incident as an “offensive, senseless and hurtful stigmatization” faced by many in the African Community, including New York City-born youngsters—Pape and Amidou Drame, who he said have been “repeatedly taunted, ostracized and physically beaten simply because of their Senegalese heritage.”
Speaking from his Harlem headquarters during a phone interview, Pape Drame, president of the Association of Senegalese in America and lead organizer of Monday’s press conference called the attack unacceptable and demanded that the police department and school administration protect African children.
“We all deserve equal protection. Ebola is in Africa but that has nothing to do with Africans who are here and I think if the press conveys that message, people will better understand how to look at Africans and other people. We are all brothers and sisters and we deserve respect,” president Drame said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a statement through his press office following an enquiry for his reaction on the controversial attack, the statement says:
“We’ve obviously been focused on the core of our response. That has been job one, to make sure that everything we have to do to serve people is in place. And I am – I would say, before Thursday, Dr. Bassett had spent substantial time reaching out to members of the African immigrant community, as had a number of other officials of my administration. What happened to those two young men is unconscionable and unacceptable; we’ve made it very clear. We won’t tolerate any bullying, any stereotyping, and any stigmatizing. The school involved stepped in very aggressively, and I think has sent a clear message to that school community that this will not be accepted.”
Mayor de Blasio’ statement continued, “So, I mentioned separately, a few days ago, that some nurses from Bellevue had also suffered discrimination, because they were affiliated with Bellevue. I couldn’t think of anything more unfair than treating folks who are doing heroic work on our behalf with a sense of discrimination.”
“The message all over the city is the situation is under control. This is a very difficult disease to contract. Again, only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an individual who has the disease – not airborne, not casual contact. People have to pay attention to those facts, show absolute respect for all New Yorkers, show respect for members of the African immigrant community in our city and I certainly will continue to get that message across, and I look forward to meeting with members of the community as well.”
Though Senegal was one of five West African countries that had reported cases of the Ebola virus, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention together with the World Health Organization earlier in October officially declared the country “Ebola” free.
The attack has spurred New York City Public Advocate Letitia James to hold a meeting with leaders from African communities across the City to discuss how Ebola fear is affecting communities and ways to assist in a public education campaign to prevent further harassment and violence from happening.