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Noose incident spurs teen to advocacy

After a 19-year-old put a hangman's noose around his neck on a $10 bet, Dionte Hall started thinking about the black man who was dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas, and about the lynchings he had seen dramatized in the movie Roots.

Hall, 14, decided to do his own research on hate crimes.

The black basketball player from Largo High School found that from 1995 to 2002, there were three times more hate crimes against blacks than whites nationally.

Shocked, he wrote to President Bush.

"After what happened that day I've walked around with a lot more pride, not only for myself but for the color of my skin," he wrote. "I'm still hurting on the inside but I'm just trying to turn something so negative into a positive."

More than a week has passed since the noose incident. It began when a group of teens hanging out in a Wendy's parking lot bragged about being racist. One teen tied a 20-foot rope into a noose. A girl bet Louis John Giannola, 19, $10 to put the rope around Dionte's neck, according to police. Giannola did, police said, and uttered a racial slur before leaving the restaurant.

Now, hoping to become advocates for change, Hall and his parents are calling for legislation that would hold people criminally responsible for teaching children the beliefs that lead to racist acts of violence or other hate crimes.

If a defendant in a hate crime case claims he or she should get leniency because the conduct was the result of attitudes instilled in them as a child, the parents _ or others _ should be charged as a co-conspirator, said the Halls' attorney, Grady C. Irvin Jr.

"Anyone who advocates violent conduct and has that violent conduct carried out by a child ought to be held accountable," said Irvin at a news conference Thursday at his St. Petersburg office.

Irvin is writing letters to President Bush, Gov. Jeb Bush, members of the U.S. Senate, Florida Senate, and Florida House of Representatives asking that they propose such legislation.

"It's hard to believe this kid became that way overnight," Irvin said.

Bruce Jacob, dean emeritus and law professor at Stetson University College of Law, said he respects Irvin's viewpoint but wonders if such a statute might set a dangerous precedent.

"Each parent ought to be free to raise his kid as he sees fit," he said. "I think it's dangerous to intrude into a family situation . . . who's to decide what should be taught and what shouldn't be taught? I hate to be the person to decide."

Giannola's mother, Dee Giannola of Zephyrhills, has said her son likes to play jokes and probably made a bad decision that day. She said Giannola, who recently moved to Largo to live with Filipino friends, is half Italian and half Puerto Rican.

Giannola's attorney, Gregory Williams, declined to comment Thursday. Giannola, who was charged with a felony battery hate crime, was released on bail from Pinellas County Jail on Sunday. He could not be reached late Thursday.

The girl who made the bet was charged with aiding a hate crime, while the boy with the rope was charged with a felony aiding to a hate crime.

"My family is scarred for life," said Dionte's mother, Cheryl Hall, of Clearwater. "I haven't really gotten a good night's sleep since it happened."

The Hall family urged the State Attorney's Office to aggressively prosecute the teens involved.

Christopher Hall, Dionte's father, said his son had never heard anyone say a racial slur to him before Jan. 14. Dionte will startseeing a therapist and a religious counselor soon.

"I just hope and pray he stays strong," Christopher Hall said.

Dionte's classmates _ of all races _ have rallied around him. They've come up to him at school and given him hugs.

"I didn't know as many people cared for me as they did," said Dionte.

His parents are proud that he was able to walk away from a tense situation.

"I thought about hitting him," said Dionte. "Then I thought about doing the right thing."

_ Staff writer Adrienne P. Samuels contributed to this report. Shannon Tan can be reached at shtansptimes.com or 445-4174.

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