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Police Arrest Suspect Accused of Threatening Black Students at University of Missouri

Police on Tuesday night locked down the campus after anonymous posts appeared on social media, one of which said, "I'm going to stand my ground and shoot every black person I see."

by Reuters and VICE News
Nov 11 2015, 4:03pm

Photo by Jeff Roberson/AP

The resignations of the University of Missouri's president and chancellor in the last two days have failed to quell racial tensions as well as threats and intimidation aimed at black students on campus — which were what sparked the student protests in the first place.

Police on Tuesday night locked down the campus after anonymous, menacing posts appeared on Yik Yak, a social media messaging tool popular on college campuses. One such message said, "Some of you are alright. Don't go to class tomorrow." Another said, "I'm going to stand my ground and shoot every black person I see." "Well tomorrow mizzou will really make national news," said a third.

The messages quickly circulated throughout the school, leading many students to fear a campus shooting. They prompted some students to call for classes to be cancelled Wednesday, and some professors voluntarily called off their lectures. Some students left campus overnight.

But a police spokesman said on Wednesday that a suspect had been arrested and offered assurance that there was no immediate threat. Authorities identified him as 19-year-old Hunter M. Park, clarifying that he was not a student and that he was apprehended off campus. 

The university later released a statement saying that the school was operating as normal.

The drama followed days of protests that included a walkout from some faculty members and a boycott of athletic activities by members of the school's football team. The escalating pressure led to the resignations on Monday of the university's President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.

In a televised news conference on Monday held to announce his resignation, an emotional Wolfe said, "I take full responsibility for this frustration and I take full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred."

"My decision to resign comes out of love, not hate," he added, quoting passages from the Bible. "Please, please use this resignation to heal, not to hate."

The announcement came after the school's football team, known as the Tigers, suspended practice on Saturday and Sunday, and more than 30 black players had vowed not to return until Wolfe resigned or was fired.

That would have been a financial hit to the university, which, under its contract, would have had to pay $1 million to next weekend's opponents, Brigham Young University, if the Tigers failed to play.

Related: Missouri Students Celebrate President's Resignation — But Say It's Just the Beginning

In addition to the team's action, graduate student Jonathan Butler held a weeklong hunger strike, which he ended on Monday.

"It should not have taken this much, and it is disgusting and vile that we find ourselves in the place that we do," Butler told reporters on campus after Wolfe announced his resignation.

Unrest at the university, widely known as "Mizzou," started on Sept. 12 when Payton Head, president of the Missouri Students Association, said on his Facebook page that he was repeatedly racially abused on campus by someone riding in a pickup truck. His post went viral, and the lack of any strong reaction by Wolfe led to demonstrations at the school's homecoming parade the following month, when protesters blocked the university president's car, according to local news reports.

Later that month, a swastika drawn in feces was found at a university dorm building, according to the Residence Halls Association.

A majority of the approximately 35,000 students at the university in Columbia, about 125 miles west of St. Louis, is white.

Related: These Are the 100 Most Militarized Universities in America

In October, students heavily criticized Wolfe's reaction to a protest involving protesters blocking the president's car during MU's annual homecoming parade. Witnesses said that the car bumped one of the protesters. They also pointed to a statement Wolfe made in November at the university's Kansas City campus, in which he said, "Systematic oppression is because you don't believe that you have the equal opportunity for success."

"Did you just blame us for systematic oppression, Tim Wolfe?" replied a protester who was recording Wolfe. "Did you just blame black students?"

Protest organizers say that the University of Missouri has long fostered a climate that is unwelcoming toward black students. In 2010, two white students scattered cotton balls on the lawn of MU's Black Culture Center, evoking painful reminders of the state's roots in slavery.

This week, students at Yale University, Ithaca College and Smith College, plan to continue protests in solidarity with their compatriots at Mizzou. Some schools are also taking preventive steps to address racial equality.

Mark Schlissel, president of the University of Michigan, scheduled a school-wide session on Tuesday to discuss diversity on campus, he said in a Twitter message.