No room for egregious racist vandalism

First the UCSD incident, and now this.

Several news reports, most notably KMBC,, the Columbia Missourian, and this picture from detail an incident at the University of Missouri where someone (assumably a pair of students) litters the area in front of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center with cotton balls. For those that don’t get what makes this racist, it’s a reference to picking cotton as slave labor.

From the article:

Cotton balls were strewn across the [Gaines/Oldham] center’s lawn, walkway and bushes between 1:30 and 2:30 a.m. Police said two people were seen running from the center grounds.

To their credit, the university’s staff are taking this seriously, and held a town hall meeting on the Monday night following this Friday morning incident. Jessica Silverman posted an account of this meeting to her Twitter account (skip directly to tweets about the town hall meeting). For the impatient, I’ll summarize the key points below:

  • Tim Noce, the MSA president, connecting this to not only the UCSD “Compton cookout” incident but also a UT incident against the LGBTQ community.
  • Michael Middleton, Deputy Chancellor, stating the entire university has been offended, and cracking a joke of questionable taste.
  • Roger Worthington, chief of diversity with MU police, who briefed the attendees on the investigation and mentioned talking to the FBI in Kansas City. “This was a hostile act against University of Missouri… We should respond as one Mizzou to this incident.”
  • Student concerns about lack of funding for security cameras, lack of black faculty (MU lost 9 black faculty members in the last 3 years), and cutting funding for the Black Culture Center.

Indeed, as reported in The Maneater and the Columbia Missorian since I began writing this post, the students suspected of involvement (identified as Zachary Tucker and Sean Fitzgerald) have been arrested on charges of tampering in the second degree, and at least temporarily suspended from the university. As it turns out, there is a provision in the Missouri state law for enhancing this particular charge to a class D felony, punishable by up to 4 years in prison and a fine up to $5,000 (normally, second-degree tampering is usually only a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine).

My take on this? I’m quite horrified that this type of action would take place in 2010. We, as a society, need to make a stand together and say that there is no room for this type of egregious, vile, and putrid intolerance. I’m frightened that someone considering a military career (both were in the Navy ROTC program), entrusted with the protection of our country, would dare to be involved in a senseless show of bigotry.

I saw at least one comment (on the story at The Maneater) expressing the belief a felony charge is too harsh:

9:18 a.m., March 6, 2010

Wm. Fred. Moore said:

I think that it’s way overkill to sock these guys with a felony! Unless they’ve demonstrated that they’re guilty of worse than the cotton ball prank,give them some reorientation and let them continue to grow at M.U.

(There were others expressing a similar sentiment, but I think this one is the most illustrative.)

And I disagree completely. I think given the circumstances, this overt act of disrespect and hate for human beings based primarily on skin color is felonious. I hope that by making an example of the students involved in this incident that it will deter others from such egregious acts.

I concede that they have a right to their view. Vandalism was an entirely inappropriate way to go about expressing it, and as such should be dealt with severely.

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