Three students at San Jose State University face up to a year each of jail time for alleged hate crimes including shackling their African-American roommate with a bicycle U-Lock and nicknaming him "three-fifths."
The three white students live with the victim in a four-bedroom dorm suite. According to a report from the San Jose Mercury News, they began referring to their black roommate as "Fraction" when he protested the derogatory nickname. Not content with just the verbal abuse, the accused reportedly wrote racial slurs on their living room dry-erase board. In another instance, they wrestled the victim to the ground, locked a U-lock around his neck and told him they lost the keys. They tried again a few weeks later to shackle him in the bike lock.
The alleged hazing began at the beginning of the school year when the black freshman from Santa Cruz was assigned to live in the four-room, on-campus suite with seven other white freshman. Although all students were required to attend sensitivity training early in the semester, the victim's parents caught on to the mistreatment in the middle of October. From the Mercury News:
Eight weeks later, in mid-October, the freshman's parents noticed a Confederate flag draped over a cardboard cutout of Elvis in the living room of the suite and a dry-erase board with the "N-word" scrawled on it, and reported it via housing officials to campus police. Two of the young men were immediately transferred to a different dorm.
But at least two residential assistants were aware before then that one of the roommates had tacked a Confederate flag to a bedroom window. They asked the young men to take it down "so it could not be seen by the general public," but did not investigate any further, according to university police reports and campus-housing department memos.
Charges related to the alleged hazing were just filed late Wednesday evening. The three men have been identified as 18-year-old Logan Beaschler of Bakersfield; 19-year-old Joseph Bomgardner of Clovis, California; and 18-year-old Colin Warren of Marin County. In addition to the Confederate flag, investigators later found Nazi paraphernalia in the suite including a photo of Hitler, SS symbols and a swastika, as well as pentagrams and satanic imagery.
The victim, who is not being named at his parents request, says he tried to avoid his suite as much as possible in hopes that the racist behavior would stop. When he was home, he always locked the door to his room because he was afraid of his roommates and believes his grades have suffered as a result.
The three racist roommates, on the other hand, denied they were racist despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They claim the harassment was merely "pranks" and "jokes." When the roommates were confronted by the victim's father, the victim got a sarcastic apology letter signed simply "The Residents" that mentioned "the Beloved Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr." and ended with a cryptic warning in the postscript.
University police recommended the District Attorney prosecute the case as a hate crime and the three roommates are accused of misdemeanor battery and hate-crime charges. "This is outrageous," Rev. Jethroe Moore II, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP told the Mercury News. "This form of bullying cannot be tolerated."
Members of the University's Black Student Union are planning to rally Thursday night on campus. According to official University statistics, the school's student body was only 3% African-American, but roughly 58% minority students in the Spring 2013 semester.
Update, 1:20 p.m.: NBC Bay Area reports that student protests started earlier this afternoon on campus. The protests gathered around a statue of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics: