Air Force: Racial Slurs Written by Cadet Candidate Who Was Targeted - NBC 6 South Florida
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Air Force: Racial Slurs Written by Cadet Candidate Who Was Targeted

Hate-crime hoaxes seem to be on the rise, but the number is tiny compared with actual hate crimes, says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino

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    A series of racist messages made against five black Air Force Cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy prompted a call for treating others with "dignity and respect" in an address from the USAFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria. (Published Friday, Sept. 29, 2017)

    Racial slurs posted outside the dorm rooms of five black students at the Air Force Academy were written by one of those students, the school said Tuesday, adding Wednesday that it would not discuss what led the student to allegedly stage the hate crime.

    The announcement was a jarring turn in an episode that prompted the academy's superintendent to warn students that racists were not welcome at the school — a speech that attracted nationwide attention.

    The student is no longer at the school, the academy said. A spokesman declined to say whether the student withdrew or was expelled, citing privacy laws. The student's name wasn't released.

    The slurs were found in September at a dormitory that houses students attending the academy's prep school. The prep school is on the academy grounds but not part of the four-year academy program. It helps promising students meet the academy's entrance requirements.

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    In a written statement Tuesday, the academy said, "We can confirm that one of the cadet candidates who was allegedly targeted by racist remarks written outside of their dorm room was actually responsible for the act. The individual admitted responsibility and this was validated by the investigation."

    The statement added, "Racism has no place at the academy, in any shape or form."

    Academy spokesman Meade Warthen said Wednesday he could not discuss what may have motivated the student, citing privacy laws.

    Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria gave his stern speech to cadets shortly after the slurs were reported. A video of the speech was posted online and has been viewed thousands of times.

    "If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, get out," he said.

    At one point, he insisted that everyone in the audience take out their phones and record him so his message was clearly heard.

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    The slurs appeared in the aftermath of racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and amid a debate about NFL players kneeling for the national anthem.

    "We would also be tone deaf not to think about the backdrop of what is going on in our country," Silveria told cadets. "Things like Charlottesville, Ferguson, the protests in the NFL."

    Silveria stood by his speech Tuesday, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.

    "Regardless of the circumstances under which those words were written, they were written, and that deserved to be addressed," he said in an email to the newspaper. "You can never over-emphasize the need for a culture of dignity and respect — and those who don't understand those concepts, aren't welcome here."

    Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said hate-crime hoaxes are often meant to attract or divert attention or they can be a political statement.

    Many hate-crime hoaxes occur in school settings, Levin said.

    "I think that schools and universities are perceived as places that are more embracing to victims of such a tragedy (as a hate crime)," he said. "A place where the culture is to rally around victims of prejudice, such as universities, would be a reason."

    Hate-crime hoaxes seem to be on the rise, but the number is tiny compared with actual hate crimes, he said.

    The FBI said 5,850 hate crimes were reported to law enforcement in 2015, an average of 16 a day. Levin estimated that no more than three hoaxes a month occur nationwide.

    The academy has struggled with sexual misconduct problems several times in recent years, but few racial incidents have been made public.

    The academy, outside Colorado Springs, has about 4,000 students. The prep school usually accepts about 240 students.