University of Connecticut students Jarred Karal and Ryan Mucaj were arrested by campus police Monday night and charged with violating a Connecticut hate crime statute for using a racial slur in an incident captured on video.
One night earlier this month, Karal and Mucaj — both described by police as white — walked with another individual through the parking lot of a student apartment complex playing “a game in which they yelled vulgar words,” according to the incident report. Police allege that the two switched to saying “n*****” when they reached the parking lot, which was loud enough for two people inside to hear.
The two were charged under a Connecticut State law that criminalizes ridiculing “any person or class of people on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality, or race.” The misdemeanor is punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of $50, or both. The third individual was not charged for saying the slur.
It is unclear whether the statute violates First Amendment grounds.
“It is supportive of our core values to pursue accountability, through due process, for an egregious assault on our community that has caused considerable harm,” UConn President Thomas C. Katsouleas said in a statement late Monday.
Karal and Mucaj were released after promising to return for a scheduled court date on October 30.
After the video went viral online, Campus blowback was swift. The administration, which learned of the incident October 11, faced severe criticism from students and activists. On Monday, the university’s NAACP chapter published a letter to the editor in the campus newspaper lambasting the university’s administration.
“If the university does not adequately address and handle these occurrences of racism appropriately, it will create a culture in which racism is tolerated and normalized,” the NAACP letter reads. “We demand for your full assurance that you will take appropriate measures to hold the students involved in these heinous acts of racism accountable.”
On Monday afternoon, hundreds of students chanted “it’s more than just a word” during an on-campus march and rally. During the march, Katsouleas voiced support for the students and extended an invitation to discuss the incident during his open office hours scheduled for Friday morning.
UConn’s president also announced a nationwide search for a chief diversity officer in a letter to students on Friday. But students and professors criticized the president for his slow and inadequate response.
“No stance is a stance,” Conn senior Areon Mangan told the Chronicle. “Not saying anything says a lot.”
In its letter to the campus newspaper, the NAACP released a list of eight demands, including new student guidelines and punishments for instances of racism, a new first-year course on diversity training, and increased hiring of black administration, faculty, staff, and police officers.
Democratic State Senators Mae Flexer and Gregory Haddad, both UConn alums, voiced their support for students during the Monday rally.
“White people can’t just say they care about this with words,”Flexer said. “You can’t just say you’re an ally. You need to be a co-conspirator.”
“I’m here because I want to lift your voices up,” Haddad added.