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Facing noose and slur, teen kept cool

The City Commission will pay tribute to the Largo High student for showing self-restraint in a humiliating situation.

By SHANNON TAN
Published February 12, 2004

LARGO - Dionte Hall, the 14-year-old who responded calmly when a man placed a noose around his neck last month, will be honored at Tuesday's City Commission meeting.

Commissioners will present the Largo High School basketball player with a letter commending Dionte for his self-control in walking away from a tense situation.

"I thought he showed a lot of restraint," Mayor Bob Jackson said. "Because of his behavior, he defused what could have been a serious situation. We should give credit to young people who do that."

The Jan. 14 incident started 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 hangman's noose. A girl offered Louis John Giannola IV, 19, $10 to put the rope around Dionte's neck, police said. Giannola did, police said, and shouted a racial slur before leaving.

Dionte returned to school and told his basketball coach, who took him to the school resource officer.

Giannola, who faces a battery hate crime charge, is free on $10,000 bail. Two minors also face charges of aiding a hate crime. The Pinellas State Attorney's Office is still investigating the case.

After reading about the incident in the St. Petersburg Times, Jackson debated coming up with a resolution recognizing the Clearwater teen. He decided to write him a letter instead.

Police Chief Lester Aradi contacted Christopher Hall, Dionte's father, to tell him about the commission's proposal. The Halls agreed to participate.

After hearing the news, "I felt good," Dionte said.

People have written and e-mailed, telling him to keep his head up and stay strong. One person wrote him a poem that now hangs on his bedroom wall. Forget the mean, it says, remember the nice.

"We're proud they're going to give him the award," said his mother, Cheryl Hall. "We've gotten lots of support from the community."

Largo High students and others in the community are calling the teen a profile in courage.

"Many times hate crimes lead to a domino effect of additional violence," Aradi said. An increase in violence ends up dividing the community, he added.

Dionte and his parents are asking for legislation targeting adults who instill beliefs in children that result in discrimination-based acts of violence.

The noose incident was the city's first reported hate crime since 2002, when someone scratched the words "go away foreigner" on a woman's car.

The air in the vehicle's rear tires was let out and a tag that had been removed from the car was later found in a trash can outside the home, police said.

The case was closed after police were unable to identify a suspect, according to police records.

- Shannon Tan can be reached at shtan@sptimes.com or 445-4174.

[Last modified February 12, 2004, 01:00:30]


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