The efforts by federal law enforcement to hold someone — anyone — accountable for the ongoing spate of bomb threats against historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) is far from enough, according to the Congressional group charged with protecting the schools’ interests.
The Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus on Tuesday, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray urging them both to provide the group with more information about the bomb threats as well as any guidance about available resources to help keep predominately Black college communities safe from such intimidation tactics that officials believe is racially motivated.
The letter came on the heels of nearly five dozen bomb threats against HBCU across the country in this calendar year alone. The beginning of the current school year was particularly marred by consecutive days of bomb threats against Howard University in the nation’s capital.
Despite an ongoing investigation by federal law enforcement, there have not been any arrests nor has any one person or group been held accountable for the bomb threats. The most that has seemingly been done in response to the bomb threats is the FBI identifying “juveniles” as persons of interest in February, around when the bomb threats first began. But that’s about the extent of what the public knows federal law enforcement agencies have responded to the threats.
The Congressional HBCU Caucus suggested more urgency is needed as the bomb threats remain unsolved.
“As you know, at least 57 bomb threats have been directed at HBCUs across the country this year. Notably, Howard University has received eight bomb threats, including two recently within the same week,” the letter said in part. “Bomb threats should not be a normal part of the campus experience. Many students may become, or have become, desensitized to these threats of violence directed toward themselves and campus communities.”
The letter went on to say that the members of the HBCU Caucus “are concerned that the ongoing nature of these threats may embolden others who wish to do harm to these schools and their students.”
In contrast to the apparent inaction around HBCU bomb threats, there have been multiple bomb threats levied against predominately white universities and colleges in recent months, with law enforcement making swift arrests. That was true on Tuesday when a man was arrested in Texas for allegedly staging a bomb threat at Boston University last month, according to the Boston Globe.
It was in that context that the HBCU Caucus’ letter appealed to Garland and Wray “for written guidance that can be shared with institutions outlining funding streams, including competitive grant programs; any training opportunities that may be available to institution staff; and resources for the development of standard operating procedures available through the Department of Justice and FBI in order to strengthen campus safety. Such guidance should include instructions on how smaller institutions or those less experienced with federal programs can receive technical assistance on any relevant applications.”
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona recently told NewsOne that the Department of Education has been in communication with the FBI and HBCU presidents and chancellors to provide updates on the ongoing federal investigation. Similar to the HBCU Caucus’ letter, Cardona pointed to federal funding for HBCUs to help improve security measures.
“We convened a meeting with the heads of HBCUs with FBI and our department to make sure they are kept abreast of what’s happening. We realize the impact of this,” Cardona said in an exclusive interview last month. “We announced almost $200,000 in grants to these universities to help beef up their campus safety to make sure these students know that they are safe and that they are cared for by not only their university but by the Department of Education as well.”
The FBI previously said that it was unable to provide more details regarding any potential arrests but promised to share any information with the public as it becomes available.
“Hate-fueled and racist threats of violence cause the victims real distress. These threats disrupt the learning environment and the education of college students, as well as our fellow citizens,” the FBI said in a statement emailed to NewsOne. “The FBI will not tolerate anyone trying to instill fear in any community, especially one that has experienced violence and threats of violence historically. The FBI will continue to vigorously pursue anyone responsible for these ongoing threats with help from our law enforcement partners at the federal, state, and local levels.”
Before that, the FBI found that the bomb threats “appear to have a racist motivation.”
Garland hasn’t said much recently about the bomb threats. However, he has in the past emphasized the racist history of HBCU bomb threats.
“Modern federal hate crime laws have enhanced the Justice Department’s authority to prosecute violent acts motivated by bias,” Garland told reporters back in February, which is also Black History Month. “Throughout our history, and to this day, hate crimes have a singular impact because of the terror and fear they inflict on entire communities.”
Joy Williamson-Lott, the dean of the University of Washington’s Graduate School in Seattle, explained why HBCUs have been targeted by bomb threats and other violence since their inception.
“Phoning in a bomb threat to a Black college is a way to remind Black people to ‘stay in their place,’ to not get ‘uppity,’” Williamson-Lott told NBC News, also in February. “It’s the same type of intimidation that was used in the past. Whether the threat is imagined or real, it is still violent.”