Michigan authorities have charged an African-American man in connection to a string of racist graffitti incidents that rocked the campus of Eastern Michigan University last year.
Twenty-nine-year-old former student Eddie Curlin was arraigned Monday, Oct. 23, on three counts of malicious destruction of property, four counts of identity theft and another charge stemming from a number of vandalism incidents targeting Blacks at the Ypsilanti university, EMU announced in a statement.
Curlin, who attended Eastern from 2014 to early 2016, is currently serving a 1-to-5-year sentence on an unrelated charge of receiving and concealing stolen property at the state’s Department of Corrections. At a news conference Monday, authorities didn’t elaborate on a motive but said the incidents didn’t have any racial or political underpinnings.
“It was totally self-serving,” Eastern Michigan University Chief of Police Robert Heighes told the reporters. “It was not driven by politics. It was not driven by race.”
Heighes noted that no other persons or groups were involved in the campus vandalism. A preliminary hearing for Curlin is scheduled for Nov. 9.
Incidents of what appeared to be hate vandalism sparked fear at the Michigan college and gained national attention after the racist graffiti started popping up on campus in fall 2016. The first incident came in September when the letters “K-K-K” were found spray painted in red, white and blue on the wall of a dormitory, the Detroit Free Press reported. The rest of the message read “Go home n——s.”
In October, the same racist message was found painted on another campus building. The third incident happened last spring when a racially charged message was discovered in a men’s bathroom stall.
“It really has rocked our community,” Judith Kullberg, an EMU political scientist professor, told The Washington Post. “In this whole context of a very tense presidential election it has raised anxiety here considerably.”
In response to the racist graffiti, students staged a number of marches and protests while the university ramped up spending for security, expanded diversity training for the school’s leaders and formed a presidential commission examining diversity and inclusion, according to the newspaper. Some efforts took place off-campus, as EMU student leaders, Ypsilanti city officials and NAACP members organized a candlelight vigil.
“The incidents of vandalism on our campus created significant pain, fear and distress among our students, faculty and staff,” EMU President James Smith said in a statement. “I joined with many of our community in my own personal anger over these incidents .The many initiatives put in place as a result of the incidents are vitally important and will continue regardless of the outcome of the criminal proceedings.”
Speaking with the campus paper, The Eastern Echo, student Jaiquae Rodwell said he was disappointed to hear the graffiti was done by a Black person.
“As a black student, to know that another black person is using the N-word in a negative way is embarrassing,” Rodwell said. “To know that it was a person of color is hurtful.”
For junior Teresa Moore, 22, Curlin’s arrest has done little to ease her concerns about race relations at EMU.
“There’s too much stuff beyond just this,” Moore told the Detroit Free Press. “Administrators are just going to sweep this right under the rug and say all the race problems are solved.”
Campus police said they had spent more than 1,080 hours over the past year trying to find their culprit and enlisted the help of several other agencies, including the FBI and Michigan State Police. No one received the $10,000 reward offered by the university for information on the vandalism.
“We appreciate that people wanted a fast arrest but, in many cases, that is not the way police work happens,” Heighes said. “I recognize the anger, fear and frustration that these incidents caused for many of our students, faculty and staff, and I thank them for their patience and understanding as we conducted a thorough investigation.”