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KKK lynching message on Berkeley High School computer traced to student

Berkeley High School students rally against racism

Berkeley High School students rally against racism at Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus on Nov. 5, 2015. 

(Laura A. Oda / Associated Press)

Concern and fear lingered Friday at Berkeley High School after a male student took responsibility for making threats about a public lynching next month on campus that sparked a massive student protest, school officials said.

In an email to students and staff Thursday night, Principal Sam Pasarow said the male student was identified after an “extensive investigation.”

“All I can share is that we are considering all available consequences for the individual in response to the widespread hurt that these actions caused,” Pasarow’s message read.

He said no other details were available because of student privacy laws, and said it was unclear whether the student would face charges.

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Investigators dug through computer files to identify him, said Mark Coplan, a spokesman for the Berkeley Unified School District. A parent volunteer had seen the student sitting at a computer for 15 minutes before the threatening message appeared onscreen, he said.

When confronted with the evidence, the boy confessed Thursday, Coplan said.

The student, who has not been publicly identified, had no intention of acting on the threat, he said. The message read: “KKK Forever Public Lynching December 9th 2015” with a photograph of students sitting in front of a computer in a library.

However, students are still concerned that an attack may be carried out on campus Dec. 9 by copycats intent on harassing students of color, Coplan said.

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“The ninth is a day we are giving back to the students,” he said.

School security and patrols will be increased to make students feel safe and supported, he said.

School officials will host assemblies Dec. 9 to talk about diversity and race, and black students and staff will be given their own space to talk about their concerns and how the threats are affecting them, Coplan said.

The day will be used to “empower our students of color and send out the message that we are united against any form of racism and hate,” he said

Roughly 1,500 Berkeley High students marched through city streets Thursday to demonstrate their fear and anger over the message.

Joined by Pasarow, students walked out of their classes about 9 a.m. and made their way to UC Berkeley to protest.

They are calling on everyone to come up with solutions to end this kind of madness.
Mark Coplan, spokesman for the Berkeley Unified School District

“They are really afraid because they have been threatened by this message,” Coplan said. “They are calling on everyone to come up with solutions to end this kind of madness.”

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The message was designed to look like a website and was uploaded Wednesday afternoon to a computer in the campus library, he said. Someone took a screenshot of the message, which the Black Student Union later tweeted.

The Black Student Union in response posted the message, “This happened at our school! When … will we as black students feel safe?”

Students and district officials plan to meet next week to talk about ways to deal with the incident, said school board member Beatriz Leyva-Cutler.

“I think this post is disgusting,” she said. “It hurts our students.”

The walkout, she said, allowed students to demonstrate unity “because black lives matter.”

In a statement to parents and students Wednesday, Pasarow called the message a hate crime, saying “messages such as this one will not stand in our community.”

“We are working hard to create a positive and inclusive school culture and we recognize the deep pain and rage that hate crimes such as this one bring to our students of color as well as the damaging effects on our entire community,” he said in his statement.

The lynching threat was the third racist incident since last year in the district, school officials said.

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In fall 2014, a noose was found hanging at the Berkeley High campus.

Last spring, in a hack of the school’s digital yearbook files believed to have been aimed at students of color, a heading describing students’ futures was changed to read “future trash collectors,” Coplan said.

The incidents do not appear to be connected to Wednesday’s threat, he said.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna @VeronicaRochaLA.

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