A Black Man Is Charged in Racist Graffiti Incidents That Shook Mich. Campus, Drew National Attention
Fred Barbash and Susan Svrluga, Washington Post, October 24, 2017
Last fall and in the spring, the otherwise quiet campus of Eastern Michigan University was hit by three ugly incidents of vandalism targeting blacks.
The first came in September, when “KKK” was sprayed in red, white and blue paint on the wall of a dormitory, along with a threat that used a racial slur and told blacks to “leave” the school in Ypsilanti, about 11 miles southeast of Ann Arbor.
Then, on Halloween, the same ominous hate message using the n-word and ordering blacks to leave showed up on another building, this one right next to the campus’s monument to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the spring, a third racist message was left in a men’s restroom stall.
Coming as other campuses were dealing with similar acts of what appeared to be hate vandalism, the incidents sparked protests and made national news.
On Tuesday, the university was shaken again when police announced that a 29-year-old black man, a former student, had been charged in all three crimes.
The suspect was identified as Eddie Curlin, a student at the school from 2014 to 2016, who is serving a one-to-five-year sentence on an unrelated charge of receiving and concealing stolen property, according to a university statement.
EMU’s chief of police, Robert Heighes, did not offer any motive for the vandalism, except to say that “it was not driven by politics, and it was not driven by race. It was an individual item done by one individual,” Heighes told the campus newspaper, the Eastern Echo.
Campus police noted that they had committed more than 1,080 hours to investigating the incidents, with the help of the FBI and the Michigan State Police, among others.
The incidents prompted strong reactions throughout the community, both on and off campus. The faculty senate condemned them and held a day-long teach-in about racism and diversity, and some professors held a vigil at one of the vandalized buildings, wearing black to show support for students of color. Student leaders, Ypsilanti city officials and NAACP members held a candlelight vigil. More than 100 students marched to the university president’s house, demanding action.
The school launched several efforts to combat what were seen as hateful attacks, including increased spending for security, additional lighting and cameras on campus, expanded diversity training for university leaders and others, and a presidential commission examining diversity and inclusion.
Despite the suspect being a black man, Smith said those efforts will continue. “These and other actions will continue to move forward with the focus, determination and importance with which they began,” he said.