After a black student said he was repeatedly punched and called the N-word by a group of students, some are questioning why the arrested white student has not been charged with a hate crime.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

After a black student said he was repeatedly punched and called the N-word by a group of students, some are questioning why the arrested white student has not been charged with a hate crime.

September 19, 2017

Was the Reported Collegetown Beating of a Black Cornell Student a Hate Crime?

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In the days after Ithaca Police arrested a Cornell student for misdemeanor assault following a black student’s report that he was assaulted and called the N-word in Collegetown on Friday night, many students have questioned why the arrested student has not been charged with a hate crime.

The arrested student is 19 years old and white, The New York Times reported. The student who said he was assaulted, who spoke to The Sun on the condition of anonymity, is black and is a junior at the University. He said he was called the N-word multiple times and then punched in the head by a group of four or five white men.

“As soon as I read this — as soon as I heard about it — I knew it was a hate crime,” Delmar Fears ’19, co-chair of Black Students United, told The Sun on Monday evening.

To be sure, Ithaca Police are still investigating potential additional charges.

“We’re exploring all avenues of what led up to the incident itself and what prompted it,” Officer Jamie Williamson told The Sun on Monday. Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 said police are “reviewing the evidence that they have against the statutes that they have for a hate crime.”

The difference between a hate crime and a non-hate crime under New York law comes down to a pivotal question: What was the perpetrator’s motive? If the crime was motivated by a “belief or perception regarding the race” of the victim or another person, then it is a hate crime under state law.

That distinction is one weighing heavily on a Cornell community waiting to see what will happen to the arrested student, who has not yet been identified as of Monday night.

One Cornell Law professor and former Supreme Court clerk told The Sun that she believes, from reports of the incident, that charging the perpetrator with a hate crime would be appropriate.

“My initial impression of the Cornell assault is that it was motivated by the race of the victim and that it therefore does qualify as a hate crime under New York law,” Prof. Sherry Colb, who has taught criminal law, said in an email.

But the assailant’s use of the N-word alone is not sufficient to constitute a hate crime, Colb explained. Proving the motive — not just the existence of hateful speech — is key, she said.

“Calling a person a racial slur before assaulting him would be good evidence that a hate crime took place but is not itself necessarily a hate crime,” Colb said. What the slur does, in a legal context, is “provide evidence that the assault that followed was committed because of the perpetrator’s perception of the race of the victim, which is what makes it a hate crime.”

“The question is, is there a connection between the odious views that this person evidently has and his action at that time?” Timothy J. Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney, told The Washington Post regarding a possible hate crime charge against the man who plowed his car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Va. in August.

“If you’re a racist and you kill someone, that doesn’t mean it’s a hate crime,” Heaphy told The Post. “There has to be an explicit connection between the two for it to be a civil rights offense.”

To be convicted of a hate crime in New York, a person must commit an offense “in whole or in substantial part because of a belief or perception regarding the race, color, national origin, [etc.] of a person,” according to the state’s Hate Crimes Act of 2000.

When that condition is met, the level of the underlying offense is elevated. In the case of the reported Collegetown assault, the current misdemeanor charge would become a Class E felony if police deem it a hate crime. Class E felonies generally carry no minimum jail sentence and a maximum of four years for someone with no criminal history.

Federal law also includes a hate crime statute, but the U.S. government only prosecutes violators of the law in select circumstances, such as when a state’s prosecution “left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence,” according to federal code.

Between 2011 and 2015, there were 13 reported hate crimes in Tompkins County, six reported by the Cornell Police Department and five reported by the Ithaca Police Department, according to New York state hate crime statistics.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs ’19 contributed reporting to this article.

  • Jay Wind

    I would expect that any analysis would start with the fight that the brother from an unidentified fraternity (X) was trying to break up. Hypothetically, if a student was fighting because he was trying to crash a house party unsuccessfully and both that student and the Psi U student were white, then it would mitigate against it all being a hate crime. If the brother of X tried to break up that fight and drew a violent response because he was a Fraternity X member rather than because he was black, it would also mitigate against it being a hate crime.

    The consequences of charging and proving a hate crime is to step up the sentencing by one class. Also, law enforcement must report hate crime statistics to the US Department of Justice. Because this happened off-campus in Ithaca, it would increase the IPD statistics but not the Cornell statistics.

    • Angelus Swan

      To be clear.. the original altercation had already ended and the white kids were leaving. The black student then went after them and initiated the events that lead to him being beaten up.

  • Ezra Tank

    “As soon as I read this — as soon as I heard about it — I knew it was a
    hate crime,” Delmar Fears ’19, co-chair of Black Students United, told
    The Sun on Monday evening.

    One Cornell Law professor and former Supreme Court clerk told The Sun
    that she believes, from reports of the incident, that charging the
    perpetrator with a hate crime would be appropriate.

    “My initial
    impression of the Cornell assault is that it was motivated by the race
    of the victim and that it therefore does qualify as a hate crime under
    New York law,” Prof. Sherry Colb, who has taught criminal law, said in
    an email.

    But the assailant’s use of the N-word alone is not
    sufficient to constitute a hate crime, Colb explained. Proving the
    motive — not just the existence of hateful speech — is key, she said.

    “Calling
    a person a racial slur before assaulting him would be good evidence
    that a hate crime took place but is not itself necessarily a hate
    crime,” Colb said. What the slur does, in a legal context, is “provide
    evidence that the assault that followed was committed because of the
    perpetrator’s perception of the race of the victim, which is what makes
    it a hate crime.”

    That right there folks is embarrassing. These are the people teaching law? Sherry Colb should be ashamed. The black student entered a fight already happening and was called the N word. Now if this group was walking around targeting black students and starting fights MAYBE, but to have someone who is supposedly a professor in law make these horrible statements … ugh.

    Now reverse the roles and say a group of black males did the same and said, “I’m going to kill you white boy” would be a hate crime or just a fight?

    • Angelus Swan

      To be clear he did not enter a fight that was already happening. The initial fight had ended and the white students were leaving. The black student then chased after them even though he was not involved in the original altercation.

      • Jay Wind

        A key point in the analysis was why did the first fight happen and who started it. If the Kappa Sigma and Psi U students live near each other and were arguing over having the sound system turned up too high, or a Kappa Sigma student stole the girlfriend of a Psi U brother, then the hate crime theory would be low. If all the people in the first fight were white, that would make it even less of a hate crime situation. Did the person who was arrested attack the Kappa Sigma brother because he was black or because he was voluntarily injecting himself into the earlier dispute?

        Until the facts are fully investigated, it is impossible for Prof. Colb or anyone else to give a reasonable opinion.

        What is reprehensible is for people to take public positions on whether or not Psi U can move back into their house in January without understanding all of the facts. Perhaps the Cornell Sun could ask Prof. Colb whether Psi U would have a valid cause of action against the BSU for tortious interference with contract.

  • What is the difference? If, a 19 year old black brother calls another black bother the N-Word, saying yo my Ni–ger, I got a beef with you and then him and a few other black brothers rough him up. Opposed to white 19 year olds calling the black 19 year old, yo my Ni-ger I got a beef with you. The teens today white or black call each other Ni-gers. I live in the Ghetto, I hear it everyday! The N-word has no meaning to these young teens. It’s just a word in a rap song that’s all it is. Let’s be for real here is somebody playing the race card?

    I remember the big race case when I was growing up it was Tawana Brawley rape allegations Tawana Glenda Brawley is an African-American woman from Wappingers Falls, New York, who gained notoriety in 1987–88 for falsely accusing four white men of having raped her. The charges received widespread national attention because of her age, the persons accused, and the state in which Brawley was found after the alleged rape. She was found in a trash bag, with racial slurs written on her body and covered in feces. Brawley’s accusations were given widespread media attention in part from the involvement of her advisers, including the Reverend Al Sharpton and attorneys Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason.

    You can’t always believe the race card they hold in their hand, it’s usually a lie. They probably had a regular fight, and somebody had an idea to pull out the race card. They’re all 19 years old, allow them to growup and get roughed up a little let the express themselves, it will make them stronger better people when they growup and become adults.

    It could have been worse, they could’ve broke store windows, beat people up in the streets, turned over police cards and killed each other, like they’re doing around the country. Instead they had a civilized fight, fist to fist! The good old fashion way.

    I wouldn’t call it a hate crime, I’d call it a fist fight! These days a fight like this should go to mediation, talk it out, say how you feel, it’s called use your right, FREEDOM OF SPEECH!!!

    My favorite saying I hear the teens say to each other is Ni-ger please, whites and blacks say it to each other, I like that saying because they are being polite to each other.

    I’m surprised that the rappers didn’t make a song with that title yet…

    I hope all the boys are okay because alls well, ends well.

    • Happy Jack

      I made the exact same point, but my post was removed. Could it be because I pointed that the “n-word” was used not once, but twice, in the White House during the 2016 Correspondent’s Dinner, on international TV, with complete approval of our fearless leader, Obama?

      • Death Mainiac

        The n word yes nowadays might not be considered offensive if you mean to use it as a friendly greeting . However , in this case, it was not. It was used to demean and dehumanize a person of colour, ; specifically a black person.

  • roneida

    What a ridiculous question Obviously the perp had “non loving”, I e hate emotions involved. What in hell difference does it make???? Obviously getting pummeled and abused is hateful to the victim. We make so many ludicrous definitions of beatings now that the commie -socialists are protesting American elections and laws that they demand many escape routes so they won’t do jail time for their vicious attacks on whites, blacks or purples,
    Asinine debate… meant to reduce the image of low intelligence and be “Fair” ???

  • Bob Young

    I’d be more interested to hear what happened than all this nonsense about whether it was or was not a “hate” crime.

    • Alumnus

      There are a few reports and articles already posted by the Sun outlining the events of the night, as well as a video. They should still be recent on the news section.

  • mma_ko

    Look if you commit violence or vandalism because of someone’s race, it’s a hate crime. Just like these four committed a hate crime against the white victim. The only difference is no big protests occurred for the white victim who was tortured for days and scalped. I guess these groups are not color blind and only raise their voices for “certain” cases. Ahem. http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/black-captors-torture-white-victim-rant-against-trump-cpd-says/

    • Death Mainiac

      I can also say the same for white students that shoved a hanger up the anus of a black teammate and proceeded to taunt him with n word.I guess these groups are not colour blind and only raise their voices for”certain”cases. Ahem

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  • Scoty

    Let’s be clear,only white ppl are racist,ask any black person.

    Like in this story,obviously the white girl was racist for wearing braids

    http://dailyheadlines.net/2017/03/black-college-student-attacks-white-student-over-braided-hair-racial-hate-crime/