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Public Safety

AUC Students React to Jacksonville Mass Shooting, Local Bomb Threat

Administrators at local HBCUs were forced to grapple on Monday with what happened near a Jacksonville school on Saturday.

Morehouse College has beefed up its security after last year’s bomb threats against HBCUs. Those efforts include additional surveillance cameras and periodic sweeps using bomb-sniffing canines. (Chauncey Alcorn/Capital B)

The past few days have been tense on HBCU campuses amid violent threats and increasing concerns about racist attacks. 

A white supremacist shot and killed three Black people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida on Saturday — but he was first seen putting on a tactical vest on the campus of a nearby HBCU. Many fear Edward Waters University, the oldest HBCU in Florida, could have been a target had campus security not run him off.

Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said the shooter previously worked at a dollar store and stopped at one prior to arriving at Edward Waters, suggesting he may have intended to target the store all along, according to the Associated Press. But that doesn’t change the fact that HBCUs have been receiving more threats of violence in recent years.

On Monday, Clark Atlanta University received a bomb threat that forced the campus into lockdown. An all-clear was issued later during the day after authorities conducted a K-9 sweep of the area and no imminent threat was found, officials confirmed via email.

That scare came about 18 months after HBCUs in Atlanta and across the country received a string of bomb threats, raising concerns about the potential for violence targeting Black colleges and prompting many to beef up security measures.

Some Atlanta University Center students’ reaction to Monday’s latest bomb threat illustrates just how commonplace the threat of violence has become for another generation of local HBCU students — and how resilient both the institutions and their students are.

Clark Atlanta junior Jayden Williams was in class Monday afternoon when news of the bomb threat was announced. He had to shelter in place for about an hour. Williams said he was relatively unfazed, but he recognizes the added concern about threats against HBCUs following the Jacksonville shooting.

He said he refuses to live in fear.

“This is not the time to be fearful,” said Williams, president of the Georgia NAACP Youth and College Division. “We know that there’s not just an attack on Black people, but an attack on Black educated people. They’re trying to target the generations that are trying to do something.”

Spelman junior Rayven Bryant, 20, was on her way to class Monday afternoon when the school sent her a text alert about the bomb threat. She said she sheltered in place at her off-campus apartment for about 30 minutes before continuing with her day as planned.

She knows the routine after dealing with bomb threats on a weekly basis early last year.

Bryant said she feels safe on campus because her college sits behind brick walls guarded by security personnel, though dealing with the looming threat of violence is a source of undue stress.

“When I come to campus, I want to worry about whatever test I’m going to take that day, not if there will be a bomb or a shooter,” she said.

Security improvements

Officials at Edward Waters in Jacksonville said the additional security measures they implemented after the bomb threats made in early 2022 — including “security fencing” that allows them to more closely monitor who comes on campus — helped ward off the racist shooter.

Charles Prescott, chief of police and associate vice president of campus safety at Morehouse College, said his school also has beefed up security after last year’s bomb threats.

He said the school has increased staffing and added 42 surveillance cameras, including some license plate readers, in addition to conducting periodic bomb inspection sweeps using bomb-sniffing canines.

“You can’t stop the threats from happening,” Prescott told Capital B Atlanta. “You can put enough stuff in the way to deter it, and make sure we can respond when we have to respond.”

Prescott also commended Edward Waters’ security for potentially stopping even more deaths from occurring.

“Unfortunately, people lost their lives, but [Edward Waters security] did their job, and this tragedy didn’t turn into something way worse,” he said.

Some HBCUs ranked among the safest schools in the nation last year, but news of the Jacksonville shooting was still unsettling for Black students at the Atlanta University Center.

Morehouse College freshman Tanner Brown said of the Jacksonville shooting: “It’s actually scary that people manifest this kind of hatred towards a skin color that only exists because of racism in general.” (Chauncey Alcorn/Capital B)

“It’s actually scary that people manifest this kind of hatred towards a skin color that only exists because of racism in general,” Morehouse freshman Tanner Brown told Capital B on campus. “[That] people internalize that hate, even to this day, really scares me.”

Spelman sophomore Trinitee Armstrong was one of several who said they learned about the Jacksonville shooting while scrolling through Instagram on Saturday.

The 19-year-old Armstrong is a theater and performing arts major from Houston, the largest city in a state that has seen at least 17 mass shootings this year alone as of May 8, according to Gun Violence Archive data reported by Click2Houston.

“Shootings like this shouldn’t be so normalized, but they are,” Armstrong told Capital B on campus Sunday afternoon. “It was kind of like, ‘Oh no. Another one?’”

Armstrong was a freshman at Spelman last year when the school received multiple bomb threats. She said she didn’t react as dramatically as some others did, in part, because of how Spelman and Morehouse’s campuses are set up.

“To get on campus, you have to show some form of ID, and if you’re not a young woman or even a Spelman student, they will stop you and say, ‘Where’s your ID? What are you doing here?’” Armstrong said.

Morehouse freshman Seth Beamer, 18, who arrived on campus about two weeks ago from Philadelphia, said he also trusts the college’s security team.

“They haven’t given me a reason not to,” Beamer said. “Even if I go to some places off campus, I still see campus security around there too.”

Student concerns

While several AUC students were concerned about white supremacist violence, some were equally if not more concerned about other alleged violent crimes they encounter more regularly.

At Clark Atlanta, some students expressed uncertainty about their campus security in light of several incidents they say happened on or near campus earlier this year.

That includes the fatal shooting of CAU baseball player Jatonne Sterling in late February, which CAU officials point out happened off campus.

Clark Atlanta University sophomore Amiya Gary says she wants campus police to be more attentive to students’ security needs. (Chauncey Alcorn/Capital B)

“I don’t feel like [campus police are] very attentive to us all the time, as much as they should be, because a lot of things happen and they miss it, or they come like half an hour later, an hour later, ’cause they’re not paying attention,” Clark Atlanta sophomore Amiya Gary said.

Gary was one of several CAU students critical of campus police response times. Some pointed out that their school has an “open campus” that doesn’t reside behind walls manned by security guards, the way Spelman and Morehouse do.

Clark Atlanta freshman Jada Hopkins said the threat of white supremacist violence is a concern for her as well. It’s one reason why she disagrees with the school’s reported policy against carrying pepper spray on campus.

CAU hasn’t confirmed with Capital B Atlanta whether it allows students to carry nonlethal self-defense items. The school’s June 2023 residential living guide includes stun guns and pepper spray on a list of prohibited weapons.

“I want to be able to walk freely across my campus without having to be worried about someone coming to harm me or others,” Hopkins said. “Let us carry around some form of protection, whether that be Mace or something.”

Clark Atlanta hasn’t directly responded to questions about their students’ security concerns. 

Spelman’s leaders expressed sympathy on Monday for the families and communities impacted by the Jacksonville shooting.

“When these senseless acts of violence happen, we all feel the impact,” the school said in an emailed statement.

The women’s college also expressed concern about “potential threats” against it, adding that it “remains focused on prioritizing the safety of our institution and students.”

“Over the past year, our public safety team has also taken numerous measures to improve overall security inside and around Spelman and has worked with local and federal law enforcement agencies to strengthen safety protocols and responses to potential threats,” the school said.

Morris Brown College didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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