Why felony charges are warranted in San Jose State case


To: The Honorable Jeffrey Rosen, District Attorney, Santa Clara County

From: John William Templeton, author Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vols. 1-4

Dear Attorney Rosen,

Rev. Jethroe Moore II, president of the San Jose NAACP, has asked that I provide you with historical context to view the decision to issue felony or misdemeanor charges in the San Jose State case.  I was struck by the conscious decision-making regarding symbols in the case and believe there is a larger subtext.

I am author of the context statement on the history of African-Americans in San Jose and “African-Americans in the West” for the Oxford Encyclopedia of African-American History (2006) in addition to Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vols. 1-4.

I know the community well as former editor of the San Jose Business Journal and a former board member of the San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose Jazz Society and Santa Clara Council, Boy Scouts of America.

Most recently, I was selected by the Masonic Grand Lodge of California to discuss the significance of Rev. Thomas Starr King, the orator who kept California in the Union.

Based on the history of such harassment against African-American males in colleges across the country, the incidents can be characterized as a terrorist act to force the victim to leave San Jose State University and more broadly to discourage African-Americans from attending the campus.

That invasion of his civil right to an education means that the offense occurred not only against the victim but against the society in general, specifically any other black students attending San Jose State University.  Although you’re considering state charges, the right to attend the university is guaranteed both by the California Constitution and federal laws.

Meaning of the Symbolism

There is a deep strain of support for the Confederate cause in California history.   Peter Burnett, the first governor, was a Southern supporter, as was Sen. William Gwin and most officeholders in the 1850s.  A secret society of 15,000 Southern sympathizers sought to secede the southern part of the State from the Union.

However, the three-fifths clause of the Constitution ran counter to the evolution of California society.  Capt. William Alexander Leidesdorff was the richest and most powerful man in northern California, the host to Lt. John Fremont on his first expedition and the first black American diplomat as subconsul to Alta California.  Leidesdorff would fund the U.s. Army and Navy during the Mexican War and start California’s first public school.

His rivals, Andres and Pio Pico, sought to keep the province in Mexico, albeit semi-autonomous, yet they continued to be economic forces in California under U.S. rule, owning 532,000 acres in southern California.

The Western sanctuary that I write about in the  Oxford article was a welcoming environment for the Underground Railroad.  A dozen African-American churches continue to operate with origins before the end of the Civil War, including First A.M.E. Zion in San Jose (1864).    The first fugitive slave rescue occurred in San Jose in 1850.

The escape of John Brown’s widow and daughter to Saratoga, where they are buried today, is another indication of the prevailing sentiment locally.

By bringing a discredited ideology into the history of a free state, the perpetrators acted in a calculated fashion to convey the terror of the Ku Klux Klan, associated with violence against African-Americans against the victim.

Benjamin Wagner, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, writes:

Hate crimes also have a much broader impact within communities than many other types of violent crimes or property crimes. Because they are motivated by bias, hate crimes are often intended to, and do, send a broader message of violent intolerance toward a broad class of persons. Like terrorist incidents, the “message” aspect of the offender’s motive can be profoundly threatening to people far removed from the actual scene of the crime. The fact that the victims of such crimes are selected based on characteristics such as their race or religion can cause all those in the community who share that characteristic to experience similar feelings of vulnerability and secondary victimization. In its impact on the community, the fear of becoming a victim of violence can be nearly as debilitating as suffering through an actual crime. The message of intolerance that is communicated through a hate crime can have broadly disruptive social effects as well, and can lead to greater distrust of law enforcement or friction between racial or religious communities.

As the Justice Department describes it, there are three indications for  hate crimes—the most frequent actual words, police investigations or hate symbols.     This is the rare instance where all three types of evidence exist.

Additionally, there is an increasing trend towards multiple perpetrators.

“The percentage of violent hate crimes committed by two or three offenders increased from 11% during 2003-06 to 25% during 2007-11, while the percentage committed by a single offender declined across the two time periods (table 9). The percentage of violent hate crime committed by a group of four or more offenders remained relatively stable.

The percentage of violent hate crime victims who perceived the offender to be white increased from 37% in 2003-06 to 53% in 2007-11.”

The situation mirrors incidents at the University of Mississippi in 2005:

As a new freshman last September, Jeremiah Taylor accompanied his white roommate to a fraternity party where he was the only African American in attendance. He says a partygoer, noticing him, commented, “Oh my God, I can’t believe there’s a nigger here.” When Taylor turned to go, one student threw a beer can at him and some others pushed him down the stairs. In the ensuing weeks, he says many students suggested that by going to “their party” — meaning one for whites only — he had been looking for trouble. “I’m not in the fraternity circle,” he says. “I don’t know which parties you can go to and which you can’t.”

And The Citadel

CHARLESTON, S.C. — A black cadet whose room was invaded by five white cadets dressed like Ku Klux Klansmen has resigned from The Citadel, the South’s historic military academy, officials said yesterday.

“I feel that I have been made the villain when the villains remain at The Citadel,” said freshman Kevin Nesmith, 17, in a statement issued later by his family.

Nesmith, whose brother, Alonzo, is on The Citadel board, said he went to the administrative offices to say he was resiging, but an officer told him to write out a statement saying “I am resigning of my own free will for personal reasons.”

In a later statement, he said those reasons included the “dishonorable racial incident of Oct. 23,” in which five white cadets who were dressed in sheets and towels burst into his room, burned a paper cross and shouted racial slurs.

“Even after the incident and its investigation,” he said, “several cadets were still harassing me, mainly about the incident itself.” He said that “being a freshman in The Citadel system,” he was unable to respond to the harassment.

And at UC-San Diego

UC San Diego police are investigating the discovery about 11 p.m. Monday of what appeared to be a white pillowcase that had been crudely reconstituted into a KKK-style hood with a hand-drawn symbol. It was placed on a statue outside the main campus library, and a rose was inserted into the statue’s fingers.

Such incidents affect an entire campus, even if targeted at specific groups.

Miller et al. (1998), in a survey of 433 undergraduate students at one institution, found statistically significant differences in perceptions of campus policies by racial identity. Caucasian students described their campus racial climate as positive; African American students rated their campus racial climate as more negative. Caucasian students also rated highly instructors’ efforts to include multiple viewpoints in the curriculum and institutional policies related to recruitment and retention of people of color. African American and other students of color described interracial interactions on campus as less friendly and reported being the targets of racism.

Harassment was defined as any offensive, hostile, or intimidating conduct that interferes unreasonably with one’s ability to work or learn on campus (US Code Title 18). Twenty-five percent (n = 1,800) of undergraduate students responding to the survey indicated that they had personally experienced such behavior. A statistically significantly greater percentage of female respondents (75%; n =1345) reported experiencing harassment than male students (25%; X2 (1, n = 455) = 40.15,p. < .05). Interestingly, when further reviewing the data provided by male students, 62% of those reporting experiencing this behavior were members of two underrepresented groups (212 men of color and 71 sexual minority men).

in a study of 1,454 students, found statistically significant relationships between the students’ perceptions of racism on campus and their (a) academic and social experiences, (b) academic and intellectual development, (c) institutional commitment, and (d) persistence. These relationships between perceived campus environment and student outcomes held for both African American and White students, with the exception of the relationship with social experiences. Basically, the perception of a campus climate as “racist” negatively influenced the academic experiences, academic and intellectual development, institutional commitment, and persistence of both African American and White students.

The seminal report Hate Crimes on Campus describes some of the cases which have been resolved through convictions or plea agreements:

United States v. Samar. James Samar, a college student, was indicted on three counts of using threats of force to interfere with the federally protected rights of three students attending a small Massachusetts college. Samar used anti-Semitic slurs, threatened two fellow students, and threatened to kill one fellow student. In addition, he delivered photographs of holocaust victims to one student and stated, among other things, that the photographs were “a reminder of what happened to your relatives because they too made a mockery of Christianity.” Samar entered a plea greement.

United States v. Machado. A former student was convicted ot disseminating an e-mail containing racially derogatory comments and threats to 59 college student’s, nearly all of whom were of Asiandescent.

State v. Tozier. A student at a small college in Maine yelled anti-gay slurs and threats at a fellow student who was working in a student lounge and, in three consecutive attacks, violently choked the student. The defendant signed a consent decree in a civil rights case brought by Maine’s attorney general.

United States v. Lombardi. A non-student was charged with detonating two pipe bombs on the campus of a primarily African-American public university in Florida. After each of the bombings, violent racist telephone calls were made to the local television station.

State v. Masotta. Three white students at a university in Maine left an anonymous racist and threatening message on an African-American student’s answering machine. The message ended with the following:

“I wonder what you’re gonna look like dead? Dead. I wonder if when you die you’ll lose your

color. Like the blood starts to  leave your body and you’regonna … start deteriorating and blood starts to leave your skin. … You get the picture? You’re *** dead.

The defendants signed consent orders in a civil rights case brought by Maine’s attorney general.

United States v. Little.The defendant, Robert Allen Little, was charged with igniting a homemade pipe bombing the dorm room of two African-American students on a small campus in Utah. The letters “KKK” were painted in red fingernail polish on the bomb’s firing device. The bomb caused extensive damage to the building and destroyed the belongings of both students. After the bombing, Little returned to the dorm and left a threatening and racist note on the door of another African-American student. Little was sentenced to 12 years in prison ,fined $12,000, and ordered to pay restitution.

Each of these cases could reasonably be described as involving equivalent or lesser infractions than the case currently under investigation.

I might ask you to ponder in your deliberation: “What charges would be in effect where there seven black students harassing one white student?”

I’m happy to discuss these items in greater detail.   You may reach me at 415-240-3537 or at john@ibispartners.com


One thought on “Why felony charges are warranted in San Jose State case

  1. I appreciate your excellent historical analysis of San Jose in the Civil War era. Working up grant proposals to Santa Clara County agencies and nonprofits, and would like to reprint that portion for the narratives. BTW, the graves of the wife and mother-in-law of Peter Williams Cassey are being memorialized by Trinity Episcopal Cathedral at Oak Hill Cemetery in San Jose. This is the church that ordained him a deacon and supported the St. Philip’s Mission (still extant, I take Bible study class with some members) and later the Academy. The Episcopal Conference is moving on including Peter Williams Cassey and Anna Besant Cassey among the orders of saints, or Holy Men and Women. They are initiating dialogue about racism evident in the stained glass ceilings which prevented his full ordination as a priest.

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