By Samantha Baars and Lisa Provence
As thousands are celebrating literature at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, a less-exalted missive from the nether regions of the internet, threatening ethnic cleansing at Charlottesville High, has closed all city schools for a second day Friday.
Around noon Friday, Charlottesville police announced they had arrested and charged a 17-year-old male with a Class 6 felony for threatening to commit serious bodily harm to people on school property, and harassment by computer, a misdemeanor.
At a following press conference, Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney told reporters and community members that the person they arrested identifies as Portuguese, was in Albemarle County at the time of the arrest, and is not a Charlottesville High School student. She said state laws prohibit police from publicly identifying the minor, unless he were to be tried as an adult.
Local, state, and federal partners located the suspect’s IP address with the help of internet providers, according to Brackney. She did not divulge whether he had any weapons.
“We want the community and the world to know that hate is not welcome in Charlottesville,” Brackney said at the press conference. “There are not very fine people on both sides of this issue.”
Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins also spoke, and said she found it “particularly troubling” that the person who made the threat is not enrolled in the city school system. School will resume as normal next week, and counselors will be available as usual.
“We will give [students] a warm welcome Monday morning,” Atkins said.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she hopes the way the threat was handled will lessen any fear of future threats, that Charlottesville is “leading the fight for justice globally,” and that “the world is aware that this will not be welcomed [here.]”
Thursday, Albemarle police arrested an Albemarle High teen for posting on social media a threat to shoot up the school. Police say that is unrelated to the Charlottesville High threat to kill black and Hispanic students.
Atkins says the decision to close city schools a second day and keep 4,300 students home is to make sure everyone in the community, including students and staff, feel safe returning to school.
The racial terrorism is a painful reminder to a community already traumatized from the August 2017 invasion of white supremacists.
UVA media studies professor Siva Vaidhyanathan tweeted, “Today, as Charlottesville teachers and students sit home for a second day trying not to let fear overtake them, I’m reminded of those who told me after August 12, 2017, that white supremacists were not a threat to this country. If you think that, be glad you have that luxury.”
Another reaction came from UVA law professor Benjamin Spencer, who tweeted, “America: This is life as a black family in America. My children cannot go to school for a second day in a row because some rando person has threatened to murder all the “n*ggers” and “w*tbacks” at C’ville High School. #Charlottesville #ThisIsAmerica”
City School Board Chair Jennifer McKeever says, “It’s unfortunate and frankly it’s really frustrating that we live in this world where people can make these threats and feel comfortable making these threats.”
CHS senior and activist Zyahna Bryant, president of the Black Student Union, posted a screenshot of the threat from the message board 4chan, and says racism in city schools isn’t new. There will be no reconciliation without structural change and the redistribution of resources for black and brown students, she adds.
“In the past, when students of color have brought forth racial concerns, there has been no real change,” says Bryant. “The is the time to act and show black and brown students that they matter with lasting changes and reform. Now is not the time to pass another empty resolution. It is time to back the words up with action.”
Courtney Maupin’s daughter is a freshman at CHS. “It’s scary to know there are people out there who don’t like you for the color of your skin,” she says. “I had to explain to my two younger children who didn’t understand why they weren’t in school yesterday.”
When she heard Thursday schools would be closed again, “I cried last night because it’s heartbreaking,” says Maupin.
Kristin Clarens, a local anti-racist activist and mom of three, is one of several community members who says she’s working to dismantle white supremacy at a local, national, and international level. In the immediacy of the school closings, they’re making sure food insecure students who rely on school lunch are still getting fed.
Two of her children go to Burnley Moran Elementary, the city’s largest elementary school, where kids from two public housing projects—Westhaven and one near Riverview Park—are bused in everyday. Clarens, who’s watching four extra kids today, says these students can be particularly vulnerable, and their parents can’t always find childcare or transportation when school is cancelled abruptly.
During yesterday’s closing, she and other parents hosted an open invitation lunch at Westhaven, and they’re planning to have another one today from 12-2pm. It will be paid for by the Burnley Moran PTO, which is accepting donations of money and nonperishable food that can be delivered to the Westhaven Recreation Center during the community lunch hours.
Like most parents, Clarens says she’s glad the city made safety a priority.
“I’m grateful for the efforts that people are making to keep our kids safe on every level, but I also think we should be more forceful in calling this act of white supremacy and terrorism out for what it is,” she says. “I’m heartbroken that we live in a climate where this is allowed to get to this level.”
McKeever, too, is heartened by the outpouring of community support in the face of a situation that is “not something you want to have to explain to our children.”
Updated Friday, March 22 at 11:53am with the Charlottesville Police Department announcement that they’d made an arrest.
Updated Friday, March 22 at 1:50pm with information from the press conference.