Teenager Arrested in Charlottesville After Racist Online Threat Shuts Schools for 2 Days


Teenager Arrested in Charlottesville After Racist Online Threat Shuts Schools for 2 Days

Public schools in Charlottesville, Va., were closed for two days after a threat against black and Hispanic students at Charlottesville High School was posted online.CreditCreditJared Soares

By Sarah Mervosh

The authorities in Charlottesville, Va., arrested a teenage boy on Friday in connection with an online threat made against “specific ethnic groups” at the public high school there, as the city’s schools remained closed for the second day in a row.

A 17-year-old boy was arrested and charged in connection with the threat, which appeared to have targeted black and Hispanic students.

The Charlottesville public school district, which serves about 4,300 students from kindergarten to high school, had shut down all of its campuses on Thursday and announced that schools would remain closed Friday to prioritize the safety of students.

“We would like to acknowledge and condemn the fact that this threat was racially charged,” Charlottesville City Schools said in a message to the community. “We do not tolerate hate or racism.”

“The entire staff and School Board stand in solidarity with our students of color — and with people who have been singled out for reasons such as religion or ethnicity or sexual identity in other vile threats made across the country or around the world,” the message continued. “We are in this together, and a threat against one is a threat against all.”

Chief RaShall M. Brackney of the Charlottesville Police Department said that while two days of no school may have caused inconveniences, “the safety of our students and staff was the top priority.”

The back-to-back days of school closures came amid a backdrop of racial tension in Charlottesville, a city that was home to a deadly white supremacist rally in 2017 and where resistance to Confederate statues spurred a movement to remove similar symbols in cities across the country.

The events of two years ago prompted a drastic overhaul of the city’s leadership and forced soul-searching on how to address racial and economic disparities in Charlottesville, often considered a bastion of Southern progressivism.

But the city is still grappling with deep-seated inequity, including in its school system. Charlottesville City Schools, where students are about 40 percent white, 30 percent black and 12 percent Hispanic, has one of the widest educational disparity gaps in the United States.

A spokesman for the Charlottesville police declined to specify the details of the online threat, other than to say that it contained “biased-based language” and “targeted specific ethnic groups.”

But images posted on social media indicate that the threat was made on 4chan, an anonymous web forum where countercultural and offensive views proliferate. A user who claimed to be affiliated with Charlottesville High School promised an “ethnic cleansing in my school” and, using slurs, threatened to kill African-American and Hispanic people.

The authorities first learned about the threat Wednesday afternoon and worked to determine its credibility before making an arrest around 6 a.m. Friday.

The 17-year-old, who was not identified, was charged with threatening to commit serious bodily harm on a school property, as well as harassment.

While white supremacist hatred long predates sites like 4chan or Reddit, online platforms can create and reinforce extremist beliefs. And extremist behavior online has preceded real-life violence in recent instances.

Last week, the suspect in a mass shooting that killed 50 people at mosques in New Zealand seemed to have planned the attack as an online performance. He teased his act on Twitter, announced it on the online message board 8chan and appeared to have posted a 74-page manifesto online before streaming the massacre on Facebook.

And last year, hours before a gunman barged into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 people, the authorities say he posted a signoff on Gab, a social network that bills itself as a “free speech” alternative to Facebook and Twitter, and that has become a haven for white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other extremists.

In another instance, the suspect accused of sending explosive devices to prominent Democrats last year appeared to have been radicalized online.

Charlottesville school officials said Friday that they would return to the normal school schedule as soon as possible. In the meantime, they said the district was working with community groups to send pizza and fruit to low-income students who typically got free meals at school.

In a statement, the superintendent, Rosa Atkins, said that erring on the side of caution was appropriate to protect students in the face of a possible threat.

“A threat — credible or not — has real impact,” she said. “It affects you emotionally and it impacts your psyche. It causes people to question the safety of their school environment, which should be considered a sanctuary, a safe place for adults and students alike.”

Follow Sarah Mervosh on Twitter: @smervosh.


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