Local authorities back decision to keep university open

Reward offered for information on hateful incidents on SU campus

Campus, local, state and federal law enforcement have joined forces to investigate the posting of a white supremacist manifesto and a spate of other hateful incidents targeting SU students
Published: November 19, 2019

As state police cruisers patrolled campus and the surrounding area, local law enforcement officials Tuesday backed Chancellor Kent Syverud’s response to a week of hateful incidents at the university, including the verbal assault of a student, racist and antisemitic graffiti, and the posting of a white supremacist manifesto on a Greek Life web forum.

Department of Public Safety Chief Bobby Maldonado and Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner also defended SU’s decision to remain open after an anonymous user uploaded the manifesto at 10:34 p.m. last night. The manifesto is reportedly based on the one written by the man who killed 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year. The manifesto had been altered to reference Syracuse, people familiar with it said.

Maldonado, though, said there was no evidence of a “direct threat” to students or others on campus. As such, the university decided to remain open.

“We believe our students are safe,” he said. “We believe our campus is safe.”

Syracuse Police are leading the investigations into these incidents, including the manifesto, which someone reportedly airdropped to students at Bird Library. Buckner’s staff received word of the manifesto at 11:45 p.m. on Monday, he said. He could not confirm the report of the document being airdropped to students in Bird, which would require the sender to be within about 30 feet of the students who received it.

Maldonado said DPS is investigating between 8-10 other hate incidents on campus that began with reports of racist graffiti against Black and Asian students at Day Hall last week. He said an anonymous donor is offering a $50,000 reward for information on the perpetrators of these acts, and a local businessman has pledged another $25,000.

Joining the local officials at the press conference Tuesday were an FBI agent and state police Major Phillip Rougeux. State police have beefed up patrols on campus and both the state police and FBI are assisting with the investigations.

As part of the #NotAgainSU movement, students began protesting SU’s response at the Barnes Center with a sit-in last week that will continue until at least Wednesday night when Syverud will address their demands publicly. On Tuesday afternoon, Syverud outlined the university’s response to the demands and announced a community forum to discuss campus and student safety from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Goldstein Auditorium.

“There’s been some frustration that maybe not enough information is being shared, or it’s not being shared in a timely manner,” Buckner said. “I can tell you that under these types of circumstances, we’re walking a very delicate tightrope. We want to ensure that our information is both accurate and timely, but we also want to protect the integrity of our investigations.”

Buckner said he did not believe the manifesto is connected to other racist incidents on campus and is working with other law enforcement bodies to identify its author and make sure there are no viable threats against SU.

Despite Maldonado’s assurances that campus is safe, professors either canceled class or excused students if they felt unsafe and chose not to attend. City and state police cruisers lined campus on Tuesday morning, with additional foot patrols added to oversee SU buildings and dorms.

Renegade Magazine, the Student Association and several other organizations used social media to urge SU to cancel classes Tuesday due to the threatening nature of the manifesto. It included white supremacist rhetoric written across 74 pages by the shooter who killed or wounded 100 people at a mosque in New Zealand in March.

The press conference followed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statement criticizing Syverud and SU’s response to these hateful incidents on campus. Cuomo said Syverud did not handle the crisis in a way that inspired confidence. He advocated for an outside investigation.

An online petition for Syverud to resign garnered over 1,000 signatures this week. Both Buckner and Maldonado defended Syverud, who did not attend the press conference and instead arrived at Barnes to address the protesters’ demands with them.

“I’m well aware of what has been said,” Buckner said. “The chancellor could not have done more to try to respond to the issues that are going on on the campus.”

In addition, Maldonado said he’s been in close contact with Syverud – who he says is committed to solving the crimes on campus – and has spoken with him nearly every day since the first incident on campus nearly two weeks ago.

Buckner viewed the Barnes protests as bigger than one incident, predating even Syverud’s tenure, and said the situation can’t be placed on the chancellor alone. The problems, he said, can’t be remedied overnight and placed emphasis on the teamwork between campus, local, state and federal law enforcement. He stressed the difficulties of addressing the incidents while empathizing with Black students on campus at a predominantly white school, who he said need to have their voice emphasized.

DPS has canvased Day Hall and spoke with residents to try to solve the initial incident and the ones that followed on other floors at the dorm, Maldonado said.

Meanwhile, Syverud suspended Alpha Chi Rho and halted social activities at all campus fraternities in response to the Alpha Chi Rho’s alleged involvement in the harassment of Black woman on College Place. The fraternity’s national organization denies the involvement. DPS began reviewing surveillance footage of the incident on Saturday, and Syverud said on Sunday in an email that individuals were identified and will be held accountable to the student code of conduct.

Buckner said Syracuse police are not involved in investigating that incident.

An anonymous donor has offered a monetary reward for anyone with information that could lead to an arrest. Local businessman Adam Weitsman offered a $25,000 reward as well.

“The people of this university love this university, the community loves this university,” Maldonado said. “An illustration of that love is that a generous donor has offered $50,000 in reward funds for any information leading to the identification of those perpetrators responsible not only for this but other acts that have occurred within the last 13 days.”

Buckner encouraged anyone with pertinent information to contact SPD at (351) 422-5222.

SU will host a forum at Goldstein Auditorium from 6-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Various organizations took the initiative to cancel events in the meantime, while Buckner emphasized that SPD is not taking any chances despite the campus remaining open.

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” he said. “Until we can definitely say that we do not believe there is not a direct threat to this campus.”