OBERLIN — Two Oberlin College students removed from campus earlier this year over a slew of racist, homophobic and anti-religious posters and fliers that appeared around the school won’t face criminal charges, according to an Oberlin police report released this week.
The report said one of the students, both students’ names were blacked out because they are considered uncharged suspects, told police that he was trying to get a reaction out of the campus community in the wake of an earlier spate of hate material that had been posted around the school grounds.
“I’m doing it as a joke to see the college overreact to it as they have with the other racial postings that have been posted on campus,” one student told campus security when he and his friend were caught putting up anti-Islamic posters Feb. 27.
That student later wrote in a statement that he felt that the reaction of the college and his fellow students “to the racist garbage was irrational and out of proportion. It seems clear to me that whatever racist scum or (N)azi did that (expletive), he was just looking for a big reaction. People need to take everything with a grain of salt, and decide what kinds of things are worth engaging with and which are not.”
College spokesman Scott Wargo said whatever the college’s reaction to earlier hate speech on campus, distributing racist literature was inappropriate since the people targeted by it wouldn’t know about an underlying meaning.
“To them, it’s not any less real,” he said. “It’s not a joke. It’s not a hoax.”
The bigoted fliers and posters, including a large Nazi banner pinned up in a school building, reached a climax in the early morning hours of March 4 when student Sunceray Tabler reporting seeing a person dressed in the white hood and robes of a Ku Klux Klan member near the college’s Afrikan Heritage House.
Students demanded that the college cancel classes that day in favor of a “Day of Solidarity” that involved rallies, teach-ins and other events.
Oberlin police Lt. Mike McCloskey said that day that police were unable to find anyone clad in KKK garb, but they did find a person walking across campus wrapped in a blanket. He said Friday “there was no credible evidence” that someone dressed as Klansman was walking through campus, and that Talber later acknowledged to police it could have been a case of mistaken identity.
“We attribute it to the person in the blanket,” McCloskey said.
He said it wasn’t the only instance of people reacting to a “rising level of panic and fear” after the hate-filled fliers and posters appeared on campus. For example, McCloskey said, a student reported seeing a group of people in Klan robes, but when police arrived they found only snow banks.
Wargo said the college has no reason to dispute the findings of police, who handled the investigation. But he also defended the decision to cancel classes and bring the campus community together to discuss the issues.
“It was a culmination of the things that appeared over the weeks that led to the need for the Day of Solidarity to talk about the issues,” Wargo said.
According to the police report, the student who was posting the anti-Islamic posters also admitted to printing out anti-black cards “to show to friends as a joke/for the shock value, but ended up leaving them sitting in Burton (L)ounge on the table by accident.”
He later wrote in a statement that he decided against sharing the anti-black documents, but admitted that he wrote a nasty anonymous email to someone and “posted (Oberlin College President Marvin) Krislov’s head photoshopped onto (Adolf) Hitler’s body LoL.” He also admitted to posting the Nazi banner.
The other student denied being involved beyond accompanying his friend for a few minutes while he was posting the anti-Islamic posters, which he told police he initially didn’t know the contents of.
“I have never considered it in any way appropriate to put racial slurs written in public or otherwise, especially not that would jeopardize anyone’s safety or make anyone feel marginalized or threatened,” the second student said in his statement to campus security.
But video surveillance from the college showed the second student was involved in making the anti-Islamic posters, the police report said.
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will concluded that the actions of the two students didn’t rise to the level of a criminal violation, according to the report. Oberlin City Prosecutor Frank Carlson decided the students hadn’t broken any laws, including those dealing with illegally posting advertisements.
Wargo said the two students are no longer on campus and their cases are still moving through the college’s judicial process.