Narrative Falters: Threat That Shut Down University of Chicago Targeted White People, Cops

Always be skeptical


University of Chicago

New details have emerged regarding the anonymous online threat that caused University of Chicago administrators to cancel class on Monday: the threat was made against white people, and white cops, in revenge for the wrongful shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a black man, last year.

According to The Chicago Tribune:

A student from another school, the University of Illinois at Chicago, has been arrested in connection with the threat. A statement from the FBI said charges were pending.

As the University of Chicago was eerily quiet Monday morning, more information emerged about the imminent threat, detailed in a police report obtained by the Tribune. On Sunday morning, a New York resident called the FBI to report a comment he saw on the, posted in response to a video clip from the 1995 movie "Panther."

The commenter threatened to shoot and kill students, staff and police on the campus at 10 a.m. Monday and then kill himself, citing the fatal shooting last year of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer. The officer, who shot McDonald 16 times, was charged last week with first-degree murder.

These details complicate the narrative that the U. Chicago threat fit with a pattern of escalating, violent rhetoric and growing harassment against students of color in response to the recent campus protests. That said, we probably shouldn't make too much of this. Pro-cop people say some crazy, awful, criminal things; anti-cop people do, too. Partisans love to associate crazy people with causes they despise as a means of delegitimizing valid perspectives. Both conservatives and liberals do this—thus the race to always figure out a mass shooter's race, religion, and politics.

It could even be the case that the originator of the Chicago threat is a troll—someone who actually sympathizes with cops and is trying to make it seem like their critics are all murderous lunatics. Indeed, so-called campus bias incidents sometimes—though not alwaysturn out to be mistakes or outright hoaxes. This is why I remain skeptical that the people who put tape over the mouths of portraits of black Harvard professors were perpetrating a racial offense; as one of those professors, Randall Kennedy wrote in The New York Times:

The identity and motives of the person or people behind the taping have not been determined. Perhaps the defacer is part of the law school community. But maybe not. Perhaps the defacer is white. But maybe not. Perhaps the taping is meant to convey anti-black contempt or hatred for the African-American professors. But maybe it was meant to protest the perceived marginalization of black professors, or was a hoax meant to look like a racial insult in order to provoke a crisis, or was a rebuke to those who have recently been taping over the law school's seal, which memorializes a family of slaveholders from colonial times. Some observers, bristling with certainty, insist that the message conveyed by the taping of the photographs is obvious. To me it is puzzling.

The murder of Laquan McDonald is horrible. It's an indictment of modern law enforcement; just one of the myriad injustices that result from having an unwieldy, unaccountable police force fraught with racist attitudes. These things remain true, regardless of the intentions of the crazy person who made the threat against Chicago.