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Berkeley High School refuses to identify race of suspect in possible hate-crime hoax

UPDATED

Hate crime, or hate-crime hoax?

Berkeley High School is suspiciously refusing to identify the race of the alleged perpetrator behind a vulgar and racist screenshot left on a library computer, tweeted out by the school’s Black Student Union late Wednesday night.

The screenshot implied there would be a “PUBLIC LYNCHING DECMBER [sic] 9th 2015.”

After more than 2,000 students and teachers staged a walkout Thursday morning, marching through town to city hall, administrators announced they had ended their investigation “after a student sent forward a statement to administrators confessing to the actions,” The Daily Californian reports:

The administration is now considering what disciplinary action will follow and has turned over evidence to Berkeley police, who will determine if there is any criminal charge. The student’s name will be kept confidential.

And the student’s race, too.

Here’s the timeline of events, according to the Daily:

“Parent volunteer” finds the image on a library computer screen Wednesday afternoon

Spokesman claims the school didn’t share the image when it was reported

It notifies students and parents Wednesday night

Black Student Union tweets out the screenshot shortly after

The BSU didn’t say how it got the photo (its Twitter feed was silent from mid-September to Wednesday). Perhaps the parent volunteer sent it to the group. But it had a set of demands ready as soon as the school notified the community:

In their press release Wednesday night, BSU leaders called on the campus administration to respond to what they described as a “blatant act of terrorism” against the black community.

In their demand, black student leaders referenced two prior discriminatory incidents involving underrepresented minorities. In October 2014, a noose was found hanging from a tree on the high school’s campus and was quickly removed by a Berkeley High safety officer, though no one was found to be responsible for hanging the noose.

The BSU also helped lead the protest:

“Last year, we were marching for a cause and an idea, but today, we were marching against a specific incident, with a specific sense of action and for a specific set of needs to be met,” said Alecia Harger, the school’s Black Student Union co-president, who helped lead the demonstration. “We had to retrace those steps because so little has changed despite how much we fought last year.”

The College Fix isn’t the first observer to think this smells like a hoax.

That apparently refers to the fishy conclusion of Duke University’s investigation of a noose hanging this spring, though the school never identified the student’s race. (It wrongly claimed that federal student privacy law blocked its release of non-academic, non-identifying student information including race, gender and disciplinary history.)

RELATED: BREAKING: Duke noose incident called an inside joke that went horribly wrong

Another commenter noted the spelling error in the image (which the Daily corrected without acknowledging in its story).

The BSU says it also wants to know who the suspect is.

That’s highly unlikely unless the suspect is charged by the police, which happened with a swastika-graffiti suspect at Purchase College right after the Duke noose incident.

What the school has no excuse for omitting, however, is the alleged motivation for the image, for which the suspect’s race may be conclusive. It’s not barred by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The principal told the community in the Wednesday email that “student privacy rights” bar him from disclosing any details about the student, but he told the Oakland Tribune the suspect is 15 years old.

The most likely explanation for the school’s selective silence is that this doesn’t fit the narrative the BSU is peddling.

Read the Daily story.

UPDATE: The suspect’s age has been added, as reported by the Oakland Tribune, and a link to the principal’s email to the community has been included. 

RELATED: In response to possible noose hoax, Duke misstates law to shield perp’s motivation

RELATED: Student arrested for dorm swastikas is named, while Duke hides noose culprit

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IMAGE: cdrin/Shutterstock

About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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