A shocking case of racial abuse and harassment of a 17-year-old black freshman at San Jose State University in California has prompted the local NAACP to call on prosecutors to seek felony hate-crime charges against the four white perpetrators.
Campus officials learned of the incidents after the black student’s parents visited in mid-October and told authorities they saw a racial slur on a dry-erase board in the suite. The student, who was 17, then told the university police and other officials about several other incidents, saying the other students had called him “three-fifths,” referring to the provision in the Constitution that counted a slave as three-fifths of a person. They changed it to “fraction” after he protested.
In addition, he reported that the students fastened a bicycle lock around his neck and hid the key, hid his shoes, barricaded his room and tried to lock him in a closet.
“This is not simple hazing or bullying. This is obviously racially based terrorism targeted at their African-American roommate,” Reverend Jethroe Moore II, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP said in a statement Saturday, calling on Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen to bring felony charges against the white students. “The community will not stand idly by and allow for any student of color to be terrorized simply due to the color of his skin.”
The students charged are Logan Beaschler and Collin Warren, both 18; Joseph Bomgardner, 19; and an unidentified juvenile, all facing misdemeanor hate-crime and battery charges. In addition to the harassment, they had a Confederate flag hanging in their suite.
Rosen released a statement Saturday saying he believes his office has filed the “appropriate charges in this case, based upon the evidence,” according to the San Jose Mercury News.
“We have deep respect for the NAACP,” Rosen added. “We share its abhorrence for hate crimes and share its desire for justice.”
In the meantime, San Jose State has suspended the four white students, condemning their actions and promising a full investigation of the case.
At a campus protest last week, students expressed surprised that such hatred was going on right under their noses. The protest occurred in the shadow of a statue of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the Olympic medal winners and San Jose State alumni who bowed their heads and raised their fists in protest while “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played at the Mexico City Games in 1968.
Students in the dorm where the incidents took place said on Friday that they had heard rumors as long ago as August about abuse of a black student and Nazi imagery hanging on dorm walls, but they had not taken the stories seriously.
“It all seemed unbelievable,” said D’Angelo Franklin, 18, who is black. “I grew up in San Jose. It is really diverse. You don’t have Nazis hanging around.”
Tyler Benjamin, 18, who is white and also from San Jose, said the rumors seemed incongruous at a “really diverse, accepting campus.”
Daniel Harris-Lewis, 22, a Black Student Union member, said the students were naïve.
“People think, ‘This is California, we’re liberal and diverse, we don’t have racism here,’ ” he said.
The dorm contains many engineering students who spend long hours studying, which some students said was the reason it could have gone on without others knowing about it.
University police said Beaschler had Nazi imagery on his walls, including references to the SS, a picture with a swastika and another that showed Hitler. He told the investigating officer, the police said, that the images were meant as satire and humor. The students claimed that some of the incidents were exaggerated, called them pranks that had gotten out of hand. They insisted there was no racial bias behind them.