A Western Washington University student has been charged with a hate crime for writing “let’s lynch her” on the social media platform Yik Yak.
Tysen Campbell, 19, was charged in Whatcom County Superior Court with malicious harassment, under Washington state’s hate crime law. The lynching comment was directed at WWU Associated Students President Belina Seare.
The charges reveal that the comment was made in response to a Yik Yak post that claimed Seare, who is black, called white college students “baby KKK” on her Facebook page. Some replies urge someone to screen shot that message, and one comment says “let’s lynch her.” One user, following the threatening post, responds with “too far,” according to charges.
Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard has said the post was part of the reason he canceled classes Nov. 24 to protect students’ safety. Campbell was arrested less than a week later. He has been suspended and barred from campus.
When asked Thursday if the university was aware of a post made by Seare calling white college students “baby KKK,” WWU spokesman Paul Cocke said he would not comment “on other posts that may or may not be part of the police investigation.”
The lynching post was made on Western’s campus around 8:09 p.m. Nov. 22, according to charges. Yik Yak produced records in compliance with a search warrant issued by Whatcom County Superior Court. University police identified Campbell as the person associated with the cellphone used to post the comment.
On Nov. 30, university police contacted Campbell on campus. He admitted he made the post and that he deleted it soon after, according to charges.
When police asked Campbell how he thought Seare would feel about the comment, according to charges, he answered “she would feel threatened” and “oppressed by white people,” but that this was not the reaction he was looking for when he posted the comment.
He also acknowledged he knew what lynching was and that he associated it with the Ku Klux Klan. He said he did not actually intend to lynch anybody, the charges state.
Leading up to the Yik Yak threat, there had been some discussion at WWU about possibly changing the Western mascot from a Viking to something more inclusive. Communications professor Michael Karlberg expressed his opinion about the mascot in a letter to Seare and AS vice president for diversity Abby Ramos in July. Western’s campus newspaper, The Western Front, published an article quoting Karlberg and Ramos on the mascot issue.
The day before Shepard made the decision to cancel classes, Ramos alerted Seare to the lynching comment. Seare immediately feared for her safety, in part due to the historical significance of the term “lynching,” and “the recent social media climate surrounding the mascot issue,” according to charges.
The two students met with university police that night and expressed concern about the threatening posts on social media.
“Seare, who was crying and visibly upset, said she was ‘petrified to even leave the police station’ that evening,” charges state.
Following the closure of WWU classes, Seare said threats against students were part of a larger pattern.
“As many of you know, this was not an isolated incident. These are threats that were being made against me as a black female student, and are reflective of our campus climate, and the continuous violence enacted on black and brown students and communities across the nation and the world,” she said.
Campbell, who was on the university’s track team, has returned to live with his family in Granite Falls, Wash. He posted $10,000 bail following his arrest and was released from jail Dec. 1.
As a student at Granite Falls High School, Campbell was a wrestler, football player, and a member of the track team. He graduated with honors in spring of 2014, according to the Granite Falls School District.
Tom Eadie, who serves on the Granite Falls School District board, said Campbell was a straight-A student, captain of the football team and homecoming prince. Eadie said he knew Campbell for more than 15 years.
Eadie said this was an example of a good kid, with “not a racist bone in his body,” who made a dumb comment that could change the rest of his life. He pointed out that when people post threatening comments online, nobody knows if that person is actually going to carry out those threats, even if there may be no intent to do so.
“I think kids need to learn that lesson,” said Eadie, who added, “What he did was grievous, and he should pay the consequences.”
There has been a string of arrests following Yik Yak posts in recent months, according to the Associated Press: In November, police arrested a Charleston Southern University student after she allegedly threatened on Yik Yak to “shoot up” a residence hall. A week before that, an 18-year-old Fresno State football player was arrested on suspicion of making a terrorist threat within two hours of learning about his post on Yik Yak where he allegedly threatened to use a weapon to “release my frustrations.”
Thaddeus Pryor, a student at Colorado College, was suspended in November for two years for a post on Yik Yak. According to an article the Colorado Springs Gazette, someone posted #blackwomenmatter on Yik Yak, to which Pryor replied, “They matter, they’re just not hot.”
WWU officials have said there were other threatening posts on made on social media prior to the closure of classes, but so far no other arrests have been made. The university has not stated which posts, specifically, were being investigated.
Campbell is scheduled to appear in court for his arraignment on Friday, Dec. 11.