A Black college student’s stabbing is connected to the racist atmosphere that has flourished since the election of Donald Trump, write Brady O’Shea and Leonard Klein.May 24, 2017
THE UNIVERSITY of Maryland (UMD) College Park campus, the scene of increasing racist activity over the past year, has just witnessed a lynching.
Richard Collins III, a 23-year-old Black man and graduating senior from Bowie State University, was stabbed to death on the UMD campus on May 20 in an unprovoked attack by Sean Christopher Urbanski, a white UMD student.
Collins was standing at a campus shuttle bus stop waiting for an Uber with his friends around 3 a.m. when Urbanski approached them. Urbanski demanded that Collins “Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you.” Collins said “No,” and then Urbanski stabbed him. Collins was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Collins would have graduated on May 23 from Bowie State University, a historically Black college, where he had just completed the Army ROTC program. But instead of watching him graduate, more than 300 of Collins’ friends and classmates mourned and remembered him at a vigil on Monday evening.
Phylecia Fabulas first met Collins just over two years ago, during the Baltimore uprising in April 2015 after the police murder of Freddie Gray. Fabulas said:
It was my freshman year, and me and two other friends decided to go into the city, just because we wanted to see and be in the heart of what the people in Baltimore were feeling.
[Collins] introduced himself to me. I told him that I was nervous about going into the city because people were saying, “Don’t go in.” My mom was texting me, saying, “Make sure you stay out of Baltimore.” Everyone was like: make sure you’re safe, stay at Bowie.
And he said: We’re going to get there and we’re going to get back. He said: I promise you that. And we went there and we got back. It was in that moment that I knew something was very special about him. It was that he was fearless. In every interaction I’ve had with him, I’ve never believed that he had any ounce of fear in his heart.
The racism that took Freddie Gray’s life in April 2015 took Richard Collins’ in May 2017.
While Gray died at the hands of racist cops protected by a racist injustice system, Collins was killed by the racist climate that has given confidence to white supremacist vigilantes, both as individuals and as part of groups.
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IN THE immediate aftermath of Collins’ murder, University of Maryland Police Department Chief David Mitchell claimed there was no indication that race played a role.
This quickly changed when students and the press went through Urbanski’s Facebook page and discovered that he belonged to a group called “Alt-Reich: Nation.” The page, which has since been taken down, was full of xenophobic, sexist and racist content and seems to indicate that this attack was racially motivated.
This murder is the culmination of a racist atmosphere on campus that began rising in response to Donald Trump’s racist presidential campaign and has only gotten worse since the election.
Beginning in spring 2016, the “Terps for Trump” student group chalked campus sidewalks calling for the deportation of undocumented immigrants, the construction of a border wall and various coded racist statements.
After the election, during finals week of the fall 2016 semester, flyers from a white supremacist group called American Vanguard were wheat-pasted on campus, calling for white people to “protect their heritage” and depicting the World Trade Center with the tagline “Imagine a Muslim-Free America.” Leaders of the American Vanguard later claimed that two of its student members at UMD had put up the posters.
Campus activists, including members of the UMD Socialists, responded with their own posters that read, in part, “American Vanguard is a white supremacist hate group. We don’t tolerate racism on our campus. We don’t tolerate hate speech on our campus. We don’t tolerate hate groups on our campus. Racists are not welcome here.”
In a statement, the UMD Socialists wrote, “We stand in solidarity with communities of color on this campus and want to make it crystal clear that we will not stand by and allow white supremacists to recruit and spread their bile on our campus.”
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DURING THE early months of the Trump administration, hundreds of thousands of people attended rallies against hate and for immigrant rights, including at U.S. airports after Trump tried to impose his ban on Muslims.
However, the white supremacist right, emboldened by Trump’s words and actions, has become more visible, especially targeting U.S. campuses, where undocumented immigrant students have been fighting for the right to education over the past few years.
This spring, white supremacist flyers were found from American Vanguard and Identity Evropa not less than three times on UMD’s campus. Chalkings were found outside of the Stamp Student Union on the morning of “Social Justice Day” calling for the deportation of DREAMers–undocumented students at the university under the Maryland DREAM Act.
In a disgusting incident recalling America’s racist past, a noose was found in the kitchen of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house on April 27. Some members of the fraternity catering staff targeted by this hateful act are people of color.
The university’s response has been thoroughly inadequate. For example, details of the noose incident weren’t revealed to the campus community until days later. After the chalkings and racist flyers, the university called these incidents “free speech” and talked about how it “valued diversity,” while taking no meaningful action to prevent future occurrences.
As a result, racists now feel emboldened to be openly bigoted and hateful and to attack people because of their race without fear of meaningful consequences. The university’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, which is responsible for investigating incidents of racial bias and sexual assault, has been consistently understaffed and underfunded.
Investigations into incidents of sexual assault and civil rights violations have taken more than six months to complete in many cases–despite the fact that Title IX recommends such investigations take 60 days.
Sexual assaults are vastly underreported, and in many cases, the office has been condescending and patronizing to victims.
UMD students are so desperate for some positive action to be taken that they voted to self-impose a mandatory student fee on top of the already high tuition to increase funding and staffing at the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct. The university is currently under investigation for violations of Title IX.
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OTHER CAMPUSES in the D.C. area have also witnessed increased racist activity. African American students attending American University (AU) are being harassed by racist bigots. In September 2016, Black students reported that bananas were left outside or thrown through their dorm room doors.
As Ma’at Sargeant, an AU sophomore and president of the Black Student Alliance, told the Washington Post:
In the real world, this would be a hate crime and an assault. This kind of thing has been happening at AU for years. Last year, people wrote the n-word on Black students’ doors and put up Trump stickers on the doors of Hispanic students. This is not just a one-time thing.
The AU administration doesn’t seem to be dealing with campus racism any more effectively than UMD.
On May 1, Black AU students were confronted by bananas hung on poles with nooses. The words “AKA free” were written on some of the bananas. “AKA” are the initials of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, which is home to AU’s newly elected Student Government Association President Taylor Dumpson, the first Black woman to be elected to the position. Her term of office began May 1.
It’s clear that students at UMD, AU and other campuses can’t expect racial justice from university administrators. As Zakariya Uddin, a member of UMD Socialists, said,
I found out Richard’s murder was a hate crime before I knew that he was the victim. I didn’t know Richard well, I had only met him a few times, but he was best friends with a close friend of mine. This heinous event was infuriatingly tragic to begin with, but knowing Richard was the one murdered made it all the more real.
The administration’s abysmal response is to be expected, as evidenced by its continual acceptance of racial hatred in the past. Nonetheless, it was all too disheartening, especially as a person of color myself.
Students at UMD are organizing a response to Collins’ lynching and against the spread of racism on campus for the coming days, despite the fact that classes have just ended, and most students have returned home.
While plans aren’t yet firm, those who want to fight racism at UMD should contact the UMD Socialists. It’s time for more visible anti-racist presence at UMD if we are going to push the racists back into the shadows and prevent another lynching.
“The administration’s behavior shows that we can’t depend on them or other state institutions to take appropriate action,” Uddin said, “We as students are forced to take action to repress a culture of white supremacy.”