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PSA: THE RISK TO HBCUs AND K-12 SCHOOLS AND HOW TO PROTECT AGAINST ATTACKS

Lydia Baccino, Extremism Team

Jennifer Loy, Chief Editor

September 10, 2023


A Historically Black College and University[1]


Following the racially motivated Jacksonville shooting on August 26, concerns have risen again around the safety and security of HBCUs, historically black colleges and universities. Federal investigations into the Jacksonville shootings demonstrate that initial plans saw the perpetrator drive to Edward Waters University where campus security were alerted to his presence. He then drove approximately a mile to Dollar General where he shot and killed 3 people. This is the latest attack directed at HBCUs with 2022 seeing a pattern of bomb threats made directly to these universities. As the school season starts there is a growing concern for the safety of students attending HBCUs and other predominantly minority educational institutions.


Summary

On August 26, an individual, identified as Ryan Palmeter, entered a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida where he shot and killed three people in a racially motivated attack. During the attack, the perpetrator contacted his parents informing them of several manifestos which Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters described it as a “disputing ideology of hate” towards Black people.[2] When carrying out the attack the shooter was dressed in a mask and tactical gear carrying a Glock handgun and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, with one of the firearms branded with a swastika.[3] Through investigations it was discovered that the attacker initially traveled to Edward Water’s University, a historically Black college and university (HBCUs), where he was spotted by campus security and asked to leave after refusing to identify himself.[4] As the attack at the Dollar General store progressed, the university campus was put on lockdown. This attack renewed concerns surrounding the safety of students and faculty staff within HBCUs and Black-majority K-12 schools.


The 2022-2023 school year saw a series of bomb and shooting threats directed at schools and universities across the US, with HBCUs and Black-majority K-12 schools making up the majority of educational institutions threatened.[5] Threats to the HBCUs started on January 4, 2022 with eight schools affected with the second spike of threats happening between January 31 and February, dates which signified the start of US Black History Month.[6] Threats made to the HBCUs were described as being full of hate and disgust. Dwaun Warmack, president of Claflin University in South Carolina stated, “If you could hear the recording,” he said, “how many times was the word n----r mentioned in that call? ‘You n----rs will die today.”[7] Following the series of threats, the Biden administration opened an FBI investigation into the threats, describing the incidents as “hate crimes” and cases of “Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremism.”[8] It is believed that these violated threats are linked to neo-nazism following the bomb threat at Bethune-Cookman University, Florida. The caller came from someone claiming to be a member of the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group. Information from the call described the use of C4 plastic explosives and a gunman randomly opening fire on the campus.[9]


In recent years perpetrators carrying out their violent and hateful ideologies through shooting attacks has risen. Some incidents have attacked the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, historic Black church in South Carolina, a supermarket in Buffalo New York, and the attack in Jacksonville.[10] Hate crime figures show that approximately 60% of the reported incidents in 2020 were motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry.[11] Perpetrators commonly have a strong link to the neo-Nazi ideology but this ideology and other extremist groups have grown in confidence to expand from private meetings, chat rooms, social media to heavily armed attacks.[12] A factor relating to the increased frequency of attacks is the ease at which firearms are available, meaning individuals with violent ideologies can easily obtain a gun to carry out threats. Nicholas Rasmussen, the previous director of the National Counterterrorism Center, “because our population of violent extremists has no difficulty gaining access to weapons that are quite lethal.”[13] Several states in an effort to combat hate-related mass shootings have enacted laws prohibiting individuals with previous hate crime offenses and certain violent crimes from purchasing firearms.[14] Extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) are also in place to disarm individuals who are at risk to themselves and others. ERPOs allow law enforcement and family members to present evidence to a court that shows the individual is at an extreme risk of violence with a firearm. These laws allow for the protection of victims of violent hate as they are based on the individual’s behavior not if he/she has committed a criminal offense or has a recognised mental health condition.[15] When examining the Jacksonville attack, the shooter fit the profile outlined above of having a strong violent ideology targeting the Black community in a shooting attack with a firearm purchased legally that did not have a previous hate crime offense.


When dealing with an active shooter incident it’s important to respond in a calm but quick manner. The procedure in place nationwide is ADD:

  • Avoid: The shooter and any confrontation while fleeing the scene as quickly, quietly and safely as possible. Individuals should make themselves aware of all escape routes to the nearest emergency exit, and follow these routes during an active incident. It is also beneficial to make note of all alternative exits for the location and building you are in.

  • Deny: If you are unable to leave, you must deny access to your location. This relates to your organization's pre-identified interior shelters, established during emergency preparedness training. After finding shelter, individuals should barricade the door as best as they can using chairs, tables and wires tied around the door handles.

  • Defend: If confronted by the shooter, it is best to defend yourself by attacking in a coordinated group effort. Within your surroundings, ensure to look for any item that could be used as an improvised weapon.[16]

One method that is used in the UK to help the public safely detect a bomb or any suspicious item is the H.O.T Principle. This was introduced by the UK’s Counterterroriem Police to provide the public with an educational tool to detect any suspicious item found. When implementing the HOT Principle the individual needs to follow these steps in order.

  1. Hidden: Has the item been deliberately hidden or has there been an attempt of concealment?

  2. Obvious: Are there wires, tape, batteries, liquids or putty-like substances visible? Was the item found after suspicious behavior from an individual?

  3. Typical: Would you typically find this item in this location? Often items are left unattended so ask people in the area if it is theirs.[17]

Once the item has been confirmed, the individual would then follow the procedure outlined below:

  • Clear - the immediate area

  • For a small item, for example a backpack, people should move at least 328ft (100 meters) away

  • For a small vehicle or large item the area should be cleared for at least 656ft (200 meters)

  • For a larger vehicle the distance for clearance is at least 1312ft (400) meters

  • Advice is to always stay out of the line of sight from the device as this provides better protection from any possible fragmentation.

  • Communicate - alert all appropriate authorities, this would include the likes of campus security, a supervisor) and call 911. Do not use any radios or phone within 50ft (15 meters) of the device due to risk of detonation.

  • Control - cordon off the area and completely restrict access. If possible, keep eye witnesses on site to relay information to law enforcement.[18]

  • Information required from eyewitnesses of the device includes:

  • What - is it?

  • Where - is it?

  • Why - is it there, why is it suspicious?

  • When - was it found, placed or reported?

  • Who - found it, who is the potential target or perpetrator?[19]


Analysis

Black and other ethnic minority communities will very likely be targeted in further threats and attacks. It is almost certain that attacks will occur in places, institutions and buildings that hold significance to these communities. As the school year starts it is likely that HBCUs and other minority K-12 schools will likely see a resurgence in threats aimed at these institutions. It is likely suspected that threats and attacks will grow in frequency as the US approaches US Black History Month in February, likely with a spike during this month.


School campuses will almost certainly implement stricter security measures, likely through the requirement of ID passes while on campus for all students and faculty staff, with more frequent ID checks by campus security. Doors accessed through swiping ID cards will almost certainly provide more safety to those on campus while providing a log of who is in the building, almost certainly aiding security and law enforcement investigations. Locked doors accessed only through ID cards will almost certainly provide the ability to barricade incase of the inability to flee and will very likely pass pre-identified shelters as required by emergency management.


The Jacksonville shooter’s legal purchase of the firearms has almost certainly re-energised debates calling for stricter gun control. While there are orders in place guarding against individuals with previous hate crime offenses purchasing firearms, it is unlikely that this will prevent further attacks from happening as many individuals are able to avoid detection until the attack.


Conclusion

Following the pattern seen in 2022 and the first half of 2023, both hate crimes and mass shootings will likely continue to increase in frequency. Areas which will be prone to attack are those frequented often and predominantly by ethnic minority communities. If you are suspicious of any person or item, follow the steps provided by the H.O.T Principle and Avoid-Deny-Defend policy outlined in this report. The Counterterrorism Groups’s (CTG) NORTHCOM, Extremism, and OSINT teams will continue to analyze and monitor any further developments relating to the threats directed toward minority communities. CTG’s W.A.T.C.H (Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crimes, and Hazards) and Threat Hunting teams will be monitoring social media platforms and other internet forums, including chat rooms and imageboard websites, for engagement in violent rhetoric, alerting appropriate authorities.

 

[2] Jacksonville Dollar General shooter had swastikas on assault rifle used to kill three in ‘hate crime’ - live, The Independent, August 2023, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/crime/jacksonville-shooting-dollar-general-news-b2400011.html

[3] Ibid

[4] Jacksonville shootings: What we know about the racist killings, AP News, August 2023, https://apnews.com/article/deadly-shooting-florida-store-race-bd2bf9591f40903a923dbd8a46d8fb97

[5] Fact Sheet: Threats Against HBCUs and Black-Majority Schools in the United States, ACLED, April 2022, https://acleddata.com/2022/04/20/fact-sheet-threats-against-hbcus-and-black-majority-schools-in-the-united-states/

[6] Bomb threats: FBI says 57 HBCU institutions and churches targeted since January, The Tennessean, February 2022, https://eu.tennessean.com/story/news/american-south/2022/02/23/bomb-threats-hbcu-black-colleges-churches-targeted-fbi-investigation/6910491001/

[7] ‘It’s unfathomable’: No arrests made 6 months after HBCU bomb threats, Politico, August 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/08/17/hbcu-bomb-threats-aftermath-00051985

[8] Bomb threats: FBI says 57 HBCU institutions and churches targeted since January, The Tennessean, February 2022, https://eu.tennessean.com/story/news/american-south/2022/02/23/bomb-threats-hbcu-black-colleges-churches-targeted-fbi-investigation/6910491001/

[9] HBCUs have long been a target for racial backlash, NBC News, February 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/hbcus-long-target-racial-backlash-rcna14382

[11] In wake of Colorado Springs massacre, 2022 is deadliest year for mass shootings, Northeastern expert says, Northeastern Global News, November 2022, https://news.northeastern.edu/2022/11/21/mass-shootings-record-year/

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[17] Unattended and suspicious items, ProtectUK, May 2022, https://www.protectuk.police.uk/unattended-and-suspicious-items

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid

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