Almost 700 professors and students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have signed a letter complaining about racism after campus police located a black student during a class on Thursday and arrested him because he allegedly spray-painted politically-charged graffiti on a bunch of buildings all over campus for half a year.
The student is Denzel McDonald, reports The Badger Herald, Wisconsin’s campus newspaper.
McDonald, 21, stands accused of spray-painting at least 11 messages across campus.
One two-tone message read, in red, “RACIZM [sic] IN THE AIR,” “DON’T BREATHE.” Then, in black, a signature line “– GOD.”
Other two-tone, graffitied statements police attribute to McDonald include “THE DEVIL IZ [sic] A WHITE MAN — GOD,” “DEATH TO THE PIGZ [sic] — GOD” and “WHITE SUPREMACY IZ [sic] A DISEASE” — GOD.”
A “FUCK THE POLICE” message also defaced a taxpayer-funded building, according to Inside Higher Ed.
The angry professors and students are enraged in part because police interrupted an Afro-American studies class to arrest McDonald. The class, taught by Johanna Almiron, appears to be titled “Towards the Black Fantastic: Afro-futurism and Black Visual Culture.”
University of Wisconsin-Madison police have released video of the classroom interaction between police and McDonald — along with three other videos further chronicling the arrest.
The first of the four police videos is a 14-minute police video which includes the in-class portion of McDonald’s arrest and ends with McDonald getting handcuffed. It shows a calm, staggeringly cordial encounter.
The arrest of McDonald while he was in class on Thursday caused much furor among campus radicals. Almiron and other professors duly penned and published a letter of protest on Friday.
“On April 14th during UW Madison Professor, Dr. Johanna F. Almiron’s Afro-American Studies Class, Black Visual Culture, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department ambushed the classroom, and removed a young black male student from the class,” the missive reads. “Upon confrontation, the student agreed to leave his seat and subsequently was detained and arrested outside of the classroom and taken to the Dane County Jail, where supporters later posted his bail.”
The April 14 letter cites Almiron, McDonald’s professor, as saying that school officials are “more interested in protecting the symbols of UW as a progressive institution like their buildings and Bucky rather than the students who are actually fighting for social change, and apparently their lives.”
Campus police “did not recognize Dr. Almiron’s authority in the classroom, nor did they even acknowledge her as the professor when she tried to intervene,” complained communications professor Karma Chávez, who includes “queer of color theory” and “women of color feminism” among her specialties.
The signatories of the letter urge school officials to give clemency to McDonald. “We also ask that regardless of the outcome of the charges against him that the student be given immunity from expulsion for his actions and be allowed to graduate on time this May,” their letter declares.
During one instance of the graffiti rampage, McDonald allegedly threatened to kill a witness if the witness called police, reports Madison CBS affiliate WISC-TV.
The spray-painting vandalism caused over $4,000 in damages to university property, police said, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
The campus police investigation into the dreadfully inferior Banksy impressions allegedly committed by McDonald lasted six months.
In addition to the letter from professors, Wisconsin-Madison’s Teaching Assistants’ Association also cooked up a letter of their own denouncing school officials for responding “aggressively to the victims” of an ill-defined “upsurge in racist backlash” “rather than to its perpetrators,” notes Inside Higher Ed.
On Friday, Wisconsin-Madison’s chief of police, Susan Riseling, posted a statement addressing the uproar and profusely apologizing for arresting McDonald in class.
“Because of the officer’s error in believing the class had not yet started, I extend my sincerest apologies to the students and the professor who were in this class and witnessed this interruption,” Riseling wrote. “We are initiating a review of our officer’s action entering the classroom.”
Riseling did note that campus cops had been attempting to contact McDonald for two weeks before finally resorting to finding him in class. The officers believed they were entering class before it started, she noted.
Wisconsin-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank also released a supplicating statement which promised a review of police practices.
“I know there is a lot of frustration on campus about the climate for students of color,” Blank wrote, according to Inside Higher Ed. “I share that frustration.”
“We are a university made up of some wonderfully intelligent, caring individuals, and working together we can do better,” the chancellor also wrote, while observing that McDonald is, in fact, facing a raft of criminal charges.
The charges against McDonald are 11 counts of vandalism and one count of disorderly conduct. His next court date is Thursday.
The seething rage over McDonald’s arrest comes at a time of constant smatterings of protest on the Wisconsin-Madison campus over racist and anti-Semitic incidents — some verified and some alleged. Much of the protest has been confined to social media. Also, somebody made a banner portraying the school’s Bucky the Badger mascot as a Ku Klux Klan member.
In January, officials at Wisconsin punished a student who decided it would be a good idea to tape a bunch of swastikas and a trio of photos of Adolf Hitler on a Jewish student’s dorm room door. Evidently, both students — who lived on the same floor at Sellery Hall — had been involved in some sort of escalating prank war. (RELATED: Escalating College Dorm Prank War Leads To SWASTIKAS AND HITLER PHOTOS On Jewish Student’s Door)
In March, notes Inside Higher Ed, some students disrupted an event concerning Native American sexual victims with “war cry” shouts.
A freshman student also claimed earlier this year that someone stuck a note under her door reading “Fuck you nigger bitch.”