Updated: Two students charged with shouting racial slur on UConn campus
The three people walking through a dimly lit parking lot near a University of Connecticut student apartment complex probably didn't know they were being watched. But as the trio crossed in front of an open window repeatedly saying the n-word louder and louder, a person inside wasn't just observing - but filming.
Now, university officials say an investigation into the 11-second video, which started to widely circulate on social media earlier this month, has prompted campus police to arrest and charge two students Monday night with violating a Connecticut hate crime statute.
Jarred Karal and Ryan Mucaj, both 21 and described by police as white, were charged with ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race. The misdemeanor charge is punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $50 or both, according to state law.
Police found that the third person in the video did not participate in saying the racial slur, university spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz told The Washington Post. Reitz said the university is investigating whether Karal and Mucaj violated the student code of conduct, which could result in additional penalties as severe as expulsion.
"It is supportive of our core values to pursue accountability, through due process, for an egregious assault on our community that has caused considerable harm," UConn President Thomas C. Katsouleas said in a statement late Monday.
Records did not indicate attorneys for Karal and Mucaj, who were released after promising to return for a scheduled court date on Oct. 30, according to the Hartford Courant.
The arrests come amid outcry from students demanding that administrators address racism and promote inclusion on the university's main campus in Storrs. Shortly after the parking-lot video went viral, another student alleged that two fraternity members used a racial slur against her at a party, the university's NAACP chapter wrote in a letter published this week. On Monday afternoon, hundreds of students chanted, "It's more than just a word," during an on-campus march and rally, joining professors in calling for action, the Courant reported.
"If the university does not adequately address and handle these occurrences of racism appropriately, it will create a culture in which racism is tolerated and normalized," the NAACP letter said. "We demand for your full assurance that you will take appropriate measures to hold the students involved in these heinous acts of racism accountable."
According to an incident report, university authorities learned about the video on Oct. 11. In the clip, the people say the n-word to each other at least five times, getting louder with each iteration and laughing as they walk by student housing.
Campus police later identified Karal and Mucaj as two of the individuals and discovered that the group had been playing "a game in which they yelled vulgar words," the report said. When they reached the parking lot, police allege that Karal and Mucaj "switched to saying a racial epithet" loud enough for two people inside the apartment complex to hear.
Once the video began to gain widespread attention, the backlash was instant.
"I really am still in shock at how it is 2019 and UConn is still riddled with VOCAL racists. not even closeted racists. VOCAL racists. I'm disgusted," one person tweeted. "White people think they're tired of hearing others complain about racism? How about how tired black uconn students feel?"
Amid the anger, there was an undercurrent of fear.
"I feel uncomfortable and scared on this campus at this point," Areon Mangan, a UConn student, told WTNH last week. "We want change. This is not fair to us. It's disrespectful and it's just not OK."
"Right now everybody is on edge," Jakim Dease, who also attends the university, told the New Haven, Connecticut, station.
In a letter to students Friday, Katsouleas condemned the video and similar incidents as "deplorable and antithetical to the values of our community and the university as a whole." Katsouleas also announced that UConn was launching a nationwide search for its next chief diversity officer.
"It is important that we remember that we get to decide who represents our community, and what behavior truly reflects who we are at UConn," Katsouleas wrote. "To me, the best among us represent who we are - the 99 percent-plus who are good citizens and share our values, not the few who don't. This is a choice we get to make."
Katsouleas' statement, however, didn't quell the backlash.
The Daily Campus, UConn's student publication, posted an editorial Monday ripping administrators for their "painfully slow and underwhelming" response to the video.
Some faculty members were equally displeased.
"I have been a professor here for almost three decades and once again I find myself pleading with an apparently uncaring university administration to deal with the university's not so little white racism problem," sociology professor Noël A. Cazenave wrote in a letter to the editor published Monday in the Daily Campus.
David Embrick, another sociology professor, also called on the university to take responsibility, delivering an impassioned speech during Monday's demonstration, the Daily Campus reported.
"Injustice anywhere is injustice," said Embrick, who donned a shirt bearing the words, "White Supremacy is Terrorism." He continued, "We should do something about it."
On Monday, UConn's NAACP chapter released a list of eight demands, which included updating the student code of conduct on racism and hate speech; protecting students who report such incidents; creating a mandatory course on diversity, racial discrimination and hate crimes; and hiring more black administrators, faculty, staff and police officers.
"I hope there is change," junior Kimberly Okeke told WVIT. "I know it will take time. But with some of the policies they're thinking of implementing for spring 2020 I think there is a possibility that something great will happen."
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