More than a year has passed since 16-year-old Misty Murphy scuffled with a black schoolmate at Madison High School after he called her a "redneck peckerwood" during a class discussion on slavery.
Following a trip to municipal court, where Misty was acquitted of assault charges for scratching the boy with a pencil, the two teens have made up.
Now, if only the grown-ups could do the same.
Instead, Misty's father, James Murphy, and Dallas Independent School District trustee Ron Price have somehow turned a minor school altercation into a nasty neighborhood battle replete with charges of racism and threats of retaliation.
When Price won the hotly contested race for the District 9 school board seat last May, the baby-faced high school youth action officer promised to turn the district's focus back on the children.
James Murphy took him at his word. For the last several months, he has been trying to get Price to meet with him to discuss the altercation that landed his daughter in court--a drastic measure in Murphy's opinion.
Murphy contends that Price, who lives a few doors away in South Dallas, has steadfastly refused to meet him. What's more, he claims that Price has threatened him for pursuing the matter, has gotten one of his proteges from the Pearl Guards--a group of student activists from Pearl C. Anderson Middle School that Price founded--to threaten his daughter, and has turned his neighborhood against him by telling people he is a racist. Murphy and his daughter are white.
Price denies he threatened Murphy or turned students and neighbors against him or his daughter. Frankly, Price says, he is dumbfounded that Murphy still is pursuing the matter, considering that his daughter went to trial, defended herself, and won.
"Why is this still alive?" asks an exasperated Price. "It's taken on a life of its own. I keep asking him, 'What do you want? You won. You got media attention.' What he wants is the district to write a policy that kids can't say bad things to other kids."
This tempest in a teapot would have run out of steam by now if not for the pigheadedness of adults. But Misty Murphy's father won't let it go, because he believes his daughter was a victim of reverse discrimination and the district's wrongheaded policies in dealing with problems among students. Meanwhile, Price refuses to sit down with Murphy and clear the air.
Ironically, the trip to court that has Murphy so steamed was never meant to happen.
Both the Madison principal and Price, who was the school's youth action officer at the time of the original altercation, told the two teens that they didn't think disciplinary action was warranted. Still, a few weeks later the city sent Misty Murphy a citation accusing her of assaulting the boy. The offense carried a fine of up to $500.
Price told the Murphys that he was just following procedure by filling out a report for the police, who filed the charge. He also assured them that the case probably would be dismissed. Misty and the boy had to show up in court three times. The last was for a jury trial in July, where Misty faced two lawyers from the city attorney's office and won.
Despite the victory, James Murphy felt the minor school squabble had no business being resolved in court. He says part of the problem was that Price never asked Misty her side of the story or questioned any of the students in the class before forwarding the report to police. Price says he talked to both students. The police, not him, decided to file assault charges.
"This was a racial incident that the school could have used to heighten racial sensitivity among students," says Murphy. "By sending it to the courts, it just inflamed the situation."
Ironically, Murphy, an electrician, and his daughter have long been involved in the local civil rights movement. In 1993, City Councilman Al Lipscomb awarded Misty a certificate of recognition signed by then-Mayor Steve Bartlett for "spending countless hours expressing her unbiased nature in many civil rights demonstrations."
Relations between Murphy and Price became strained last summer when Murphy informed Price that he planned to speak to the school board. Price warned Murphy that if he didn't put the issue behind him, he would run the risk of hurting his daughter. Murphy ignored the advice and told the school board in August that his daughter was a victim of reverse discrimination--something Price says he just doesn't see. In fact, he actually talked the police officer out of writing tickets against Misty for cursing the teacher and him that day.
Murphy would not let the matter drop. In the last several weeks, he has met with acting Superintendent James Hughey, the Dallas police, and Lipscomb to complain that Price will not meet with him.
Price says that he did meet with his neighbor on at least one occasion, but that the conversation quickly disintegrated. Price told Murphy that the school board couldn't write a policy forbidding students to say bad things to other students. "I asked him if he ever heard of the ACLU or the First Amendment," says Price. "I honestly don't know what he wants from me.
"I told Mr. Murphy, 'Don't put Misty in a position of fighting every child that I ever taught. If you come after me for no reason, it is going to get around.' And that is exactly what has happened. Everyone in South Dallas is going to take up for me, because I've done nothing wrong."
By mid-December, this weird situation took a turn for the weirder. Price says he was in his office on December 17 when the principal at Madison called to tell him that Murphy was painting something about him on Murphy's garage. When Price got there, he says, Murphy was in the middle of painting the words "Ron Price is racist." The next day, a former Pearl Guard told Misty that her father had better leave Ron Price alone or would have to watch his back.
On New Year's Eve, one of Murphy's neighbors started screaming at him, telling him he was a racist and a troublemaker. Murphy reported it to police in the afternoon. Price says the police came to his house at 3:30 a.m. to talk to him about it--which scared him and his mother, who has been staying with him.
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"Murphy's deprived me of my freedom," says Price. "My mother won't move back to East Texas, because she's afraid of what he might do to me."
Murphy also is scared for his safety and that of his daughter, he says. Last week, he reported his fears to the FBI and the Dallas police. He says all he wants is to meet with Price in the hope of getting the district to "com[e] up with a better system of dealing with children instead of indiscriminately charging them with stuff," he says. "Being falsely accused of assault is a terrible thing to happen to a child, especially Misty. If I've been too aggressive in pursuing this, it is not out of maliciousness. I just want to make sure it doesn't happen to another child."
"If Mr. Murphy wants to talk with me, all he has to do is walk across the street," says Price. "I'm not going nowhere to talk to my neighbor."
Last week, however, when the police called Price again, Price told a detective that if he set up a meeting with Murphy, he'd be there.