This is where the hate crimes laws are going to take us, to idiotic places such as this.
Two students at the University of Missouri-Columbia were suspended Wednesday after their arrests in a case of cotton balls thrown across the lawn of the campus black-culture center.
Campus police on Tuesday evening arrested the students, one of whom is from the St. Louis area, on suspicion of a felony hate crime. The two were released on bond, and charges were pending.
The incident happened early Friday at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, near the middle of campus. Nathan Stephens, the center’s coordinator, said students were offended because of the “symbolic violence” that harkened to days of slavery on cotton plantations.
University Chancellor Brady J. Deaton suspended the two students on Wednesday, identifying Zachary E. Tucker and Sean D. Fitzgerald as the ones arrested in the case.
Tucker is a senior from the St. Louis area majoring in psychology, according to university records. Fitzgerald is a freshman from western Missouri majoring in political science.
Tucker and his family could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The university soon will begin an inquiry into the men’s conduct, and punishment could range from a reprimand to expulsion.
“The chancellor thought (suspension) was in the best interest of the entire university community, including the two students, while this process can be completed,” said university spokeswoman Mary Banken.
On Monday evening, about 300 people attended a forum at the Black Culture Center to discuss the incident, said Stephens. “People were angry and upset,” he said.
Stephens said that unlike incidents involving nooses or burning crosses as racist statements, he had not heard about cottons balls before. “It befuddled me as well,” he said.
Campus police Capt. Brian Weimer said officers received a tip Tuesday offering names of the suspects. He declined to describe evidence supporting a hate-crime charge, saying only, “The information we gathered lead to those charges being appropriate.”
Weimer said cotton balls were strewn across the lawn and sidewalk near the front door of the culture center, probably between 1:30 and 2 a.m. Friday.
Ryan Haigh, an assistant Boone County prosecutor, said late Wednesday that he was awaiting more police reports before deciding whether to seek charges.
“We want to make an informed decision,” he said.
Haigh said hate crime cases were rare in Boone County, and he could recall only one or two in the last 18 months. He said cases referred by police didn’t necessarily lead to charges of hate crimes.
In one recent case, he said, police arrested two high school students on suspicion of a hate crime for spray-painting inappropriate words on a church. Haigh said the county did not charge them with a hate crime for several reasons, including their ages and lack of criminal records.