Black student could get 20 years for racist post hoax

Saginaw Valley State University ©
An African-American student was arrested after using the social media service Yik Yak to post a threat about shooting “every black person” on a Michigan college campus. Though he says the post was a joke, he could face stiff penalties.

“I'm going to shoot every black person I can on campus. Starting tomorrow morning,” said the post on the anonymized social media service, referring to Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU). The message triggered a police response and an investigation that led to the Tuesday arrest of Emmanuel D. Bowden, a 21-year-old student at a nearby community college.

Bowden, 21, has been charged with making a false report or threat of terrorism, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

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Yik Yak has a mechanism that automatically removes posts if they receive too many negative votes from other users, which resulted in the threat and its replies being eventually deleted. After multiple negative replies, the author of the threat replied, “Its [sic] a joke,” and “I'm black,” and “I was going to give it an hour to see how you all would react,” and “Right. I could be angry and just expressing myself lol,” according to the police reports obtained by the Saginaw News.

His lack of intention or capability of making the attack is not a defense, though. A statute related to the false report charge says that it is still considered a crime even if “the defendant did not have the intent or capability of committing the act of terrorism.”

University police arrested Bowden early on Tuesday inside an SVSU residence hall, and called his cellphone to confirm that it was the one they believe was used to post the threat. He was tracked down thanks to a Yik Yak feature that keeps track of the location and IP address where messages come from.

Bowden is currently in jail on a $10,000 bond.

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The fake threat comes at a time when campuses are particularly concerned about racial tensions and threats of violence. Last week, two men were arrested after they made threats against the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri, where controversial protests over alleged instances of racism are occurring. They also used Yik Yak to make posts saying that they would commit racial violence.

One of the threats was very similar to the post Bowden is accused of making, with the author saying that he would “shoot every black person I see.” The author of the post was identified by police as a 19-year old white student at a Missouri campus some 90 miles away from Columbia.