Laguna parents file hate-crime complaint after watermelon is thrown at their home

Parents of a Laguna Beach High School student said their son was the target of a hate crime two days after Christmas involving a watermelon that was tossed toward the family home and splattered on the concrete driveway.

“I know what throwing a watermelon at a person who is black is designed to connote,” the father, Maurice Possley, said in an interview with the Daily Pilot.

Possley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is a former reporter and editor with the Chicago Tribune, and his wife, Cathleen Falsani, also a journalist, are both white. They said their 17-year-old adopted son, Vasco, was targeted because he is black.

Laguna Beach police, who received the complaint, said they are investigating five juveniles with possible connections to the Dec. 27 incident.

The Laguna Beach Unified School District wrote in a letter sent to families and staff Friday that high school administrators were notified of the complaint by police.

The district letter seems to indicate that the suspects are Laguna students. Police later confirmed that the juveniles they’re investigating are district students.

“Please be assured that we are addressing this matter with the individuals involved to the fullest extent possible within the limits of our jurisdiction,” according to the district’s statement. “While it is natural to want to know the consequences of the incident, we cannot disclose further details about any proposed or implemented disciplinary action that has or may occur due to privacy laws.”

The family was getting ready to eat dinner shortly before 9 p.m. that night when Possley heard something through an open door.

“They were calling Vasco by name, and as I headed to the door, there was a thud,” Possley said.

Because it was dark outside at the time and the area is without streetlights, Possley did not see any faces or the vehicle used. The Daily Pilot is not publishing the home’s location to protect the family.

Possley said he noticed that one of the pieces of watermelon had a sticker on it showing the brand. He typed the brand name into Google and discovered a distributor.

Possley said Falsani, an award-winning religion journalist who was a reporter and columnist at the Chicago Tribune, called a local grocery store to see if any employees remembered juveniles purchasing the fruit.

One employee did, and meanwhile, a neighbor’s security camera had captured a truck, believed to be the getaway vehicle, in front of Possley’s house, he said.

In a written statement to the Daily Pilot, Possley said he and Falsani are not looking for sympathy. They want to raise awareness to prevent such incidents.

“We are not here to talk about retribution or to paint ourselves or our son as victims,” Possley said in the statement. “We are not. He is not.

“We are here to let the people of Laguna Beach know the facts of what happened to us and call upon everyone to stand together to send a clear, articulate message that this kind of hateful act is not tolerated in Laguna Beach.

“To remain silent is to give tacit permission for others to engage in similar corrosive behavior. We will not be silent.”

Meanwhile, the district’s letter offered the same sort of plea for tolerance.

“As a school district, we continue to work on teaching cultural proficiency, including self-awareness of how each student’s ethnicity, culture and life experiences may impact others,” it said.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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