BYU/Duke, Jussie Smollett, And Oberlin College: When Racism Is Weaponized Wrongfully
Written By: Reverend Anton Sawyer
Racism is one of the single greatest flaws to ever plague the human species … I simply don’t understand it.
To feel you have superiority over another human being simply because of the geographical location with which you were dropped out of your mother’s vagina doesn’t register with me. Because of this, whenever a crime involving racial overtones takes the national spotlight, I keep a close eye on it. Given that per a 2021 report in The Sentencing Project, black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly five times the rate of white Americans, we know that claims of systemic racism are more than likely accurate. Because of this fact, coupled with media sensationalism, I’m always intrigued to see the different forms that public outcry for justice takes as the facts of the case roll out en masse, and how the definition of the term “justice” can change day by day. The types of criminal cases predicated on race that always breaks my heart are the ones where it’s found that the calls of racism were actually lies. Whenever I see this occur, all I can think of is how many more actual victims of hate crimes will become silenced out of fear that they won’t be believed. That’s why the examples of false accusations predicated on racism I’m providing in this piece cause my blood to boil.
Whenever you make a false accusation of any kind, it dilutes the seriousness and damage to the lives of actual victims. I equate it to how Ice-T equates the phrase “all lives matter” to the black lives matter movement when he said, “But when I say ‘black lives matter’ and you say ‘all lives matter' you’re diluting what I’m saying. You’re diluting the issue. The issue isn’t about everybody, it’s about black lives at the moment.” The instances below will be filled with this kind of dilution.
Finally, as you read along, you’ll find there’s even something worse that can come from these kinds of false accusations: ammunition for your enemies.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for all articles can be found in the bibliography linked here.
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THE BYU/DUKE CONTROVERSY
I understand that trying to defend the Mormon stalwart of higher learning, Brigham Young University (BYU), from cries of racism seems a bit blind when you understand the past of the church that founded this college. However, as someone who takes pride in finding out the most accurate information available, at the time of this article’s publishing, Duke university has not provided as much solid evidence as BYU has when it comes to the racial harassment charges levied against the Utah school’s women’s volleyball team and their fans.
For those unaware, during the summer of 2022 Duke University’s women’s volleyball team was playing at BYU at Smith Fieldhouse. In the second set, the Duke team was situated on the end of the court in front of the BYU student section, known as the “Roar of Cougars,” or ROC. With BYU leading 6-3, it was Richardson’s turn to serve. She later recounted to ESPN’s Holly Rowe that what began as garden-variety heckling became something else in that moment, “Very distinctly I heard a very strong and negative racial slur.” She said this racial taunting escalated. Richardson’s godmother, Lesa Pamplin, alleges in her Twitter post the next day that Richardson “was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back.” It was this tweet, among others, that became viral and brought about national attention. Once this national attention was garnered, actions were taken.
BYU did not initially doubt the veracity of Richardson’s account. Immediately after the accusation, the school banned the fan who was identified by Duke as having approached a player after the game, making her uncomfortable, and for allegedly yelling the slurs. The discipline unraveled, though, when BYU campus police said in a report that they had reviewed surveillance footage from the match and the banned fan didn’t appear to be yelling any slurs. In fact, once BYU concluded its investigation into the allegations, many of the accusations didn’t pan out.
In a statement made a few weeks after the event, the private Provo school said it thoroughly reviewed surveillance video from the game and had “not found any evidence” that a fan screamed slurs at Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson as she had reported she heard “very distinctly.” The statement continued, “There will be some who assume we are being selective in our review. To the contrary, we have tried to be as thorough as possible in our investigation, and we renew our invitation for anyone with evidence contrary to our findings to come forward and share it.” As part of its investigation, BYU said it looked at all video and audio available, including both surveillance footage and game tape from BYUtv. The school said it also removed the broadcasting commentary “to ensure that the noise from the stands could be heard more clearly.” BYU said it additionally reached out to 50 people who attended the event, including Duke staff and student-athletes, BYU athletics personnel and student-athletes, security staff, and fans.
The police report from the school was also at odds with Richardson’s telling of what happened.
According to BYU police, administrators from BYU told a campus police officer about the issue during the third set of the match and elected to put an officer near the Duke bench before the fourth set. No one identified the person making the slurs at that time, the officer said. And while Richardson said the slurs grew during the fourth set, the officer reported that he didn’t hear anything inappropriate while he was visibly standing there, listening. The police department said no students have come forward to report hearing someone near them shout the slurs. And no other players on Duke’s team have talked about it.
Again, as much as I hate to defend BYU, in this case, I think their evidence has legs.
OBERLIN COLLEGE WINS $36.59 MILLION DUE TO FALSE RACISM
One of the worst things that can happen when weaponizing racism through deceptive means is if the lie catches fire with the masses. This is exactly what happened to Oberlin College when they backed a false accusation of racism to the point where the cause was taken up by their students—with heavy monetary damages as a result.
Oberlin is a small liberal arts college with a reputation for turning out students who are strong in the arts and humanities and for its progressive politics, leaning heavily on its history of being a stop on the Underground Railroad as well as one of the first colleges to admit black students. Gibson’s bakery, across the street from the college, sold donuts and chocolates and was considered a must-eat part of the Oberlin dining experience.
The incident that started the dispute unfolded in November 2016, when a student tried to buy a bottle of wine with a fake ID while shoplifting two more bottles by hiding them under his coat, according to court papers. Allyn Gibson, a son and grandson of the owners, who is white, chased the student out onto the street, where two of his friends, also black students at Oberlin, joined in the scuffle. The students later pleaded guilty to various charges. That altercation led to two days of protests; several hundred students gathered in front of the bakery, accusing it of having racially profiled its customers, according to court papers.
The lawsuit filed by Gibson’s contended that Oberlin had defamed the bakery when the dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, and other members of the administration took sides in the dispute by attending the protests, where fliers, peppered with capital letters, urged a boycott of the bakery and said that it was a “RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT OF RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.” Gibson’s also presented testimony that Oberlin had stopped ordering from the bakery but had offered to restore its business if charges were dropped against the three students or if the bakery gave students accused of shoplifting special treatment, which it refused to do.
In the spring of 2022, a three-judge panel of the Ohio Court of Appeals confirmed the jury’s finding after a six-week trial, that Oberlin was liable for libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and intentional interference with a business relationship—that it had effectively defamed the business by siding with the protesters. In its ruling, the Court of Appeals agreed that students had a right to protest. But the court said that the flier and a related student senate resolution—which said that the store had a history of racial profiling—were not constitutionally protected opinions. After taking the matter up the legal food chain, with a trail of losses as the result, Oberlin College said in September 2022 that it would pay $36.59 million to Gibson’s bakery.
Shortly after the number of damages that were to be paid was released, conservative talk show hosts Clay Travis and Buck Sexton used this as fodder to push the “those who speak the loudest against racism are actually the racists” narrative by leaving this quote on their official website. “[Gibson’s] called the police on legitimate crime being perpetrated in their fifth-generation shop, and got smeared as racists. Now Oberlin College has agreed to pay $36.59 million in damages to the bakery. The job of the press is to ask questions about anything that happens, to find the truth, but the leftists want to discourage anyone from daring to question their narratives.”
It's events like Oberlin that will only help to push their warped narrative.
I think the case of Jussie Smollett is the most visible example of how badly weaponizing racism can backfire and have the most lasting impact.
In January 2019, Chicago police began investigating a suspected racist and homophobic attack on Empire star Jussie Smollett by two masked men which happened at about 2 am. They say the actor was punched in the face, had an "unknown chemical substance" poured on him, and a rope wrapped around his neck. Smollett told police the two attackers also made references to MAGA. Shortly after the alleged attack, police investigating the attack asked to see Smollett’s phone. They wanted it to confirm details, including the MAGA references made, as the actor says he was on the phone with his manager at the time. Smollett refused to hand the phone over. A day later, the police said, "He's a victim. We don't treat him like a criminal." They also said they wouldn't demand the phone.
The beginning of February saw Smollett release a statement. "The outpouring of love and support from my village has meant more than I will ever be able to truly put into words." He added, "I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level." Chicago police also released pictures of two "people of interest" they wanted to speak to. Shortly after making the statement, Smollett gave police a PDF file of his phone records, after they had originally asked for his phone and he'd refused. But, the files were redacted with some bits having been covered up.
The two persons of interest were found and brought in. However, neither suspects, brothers Obabinjo (Ola) and Abimbola (Abel) Osundairo, were charged. Police then raided their homes only to find a black face mask, an Empire script, a phone, receipts, a red hat, and bleach. By February 20th, Smollett was arrested and charged with filing a false police report; a class 4 felony. This charge was just the beginning, as by the end of the whole ordeal, Smollett would be given a total of six counts related to the false report filing. At a press conference, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says that Smollett "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career." He added that the actor did it because he was "dissatisfied with his salary." Police claimed he also had sent a racist letter to himself at a Fox studio and paid the Osundairo brothers a cheque for $3,500 (£2,600) to stage the attack.
It would take three years of back and forth with the evidence before a resolution was achieved.
The case against Smollett was eventually decided in 2021 when a jury in Cook County, Illinois found him guilty of felony disorderly conduct for staging a fake hate crime. Jurors deliberated for a little more than nine hours over two days before finding Smollett guilty on five of the six counts he faced, which were related to the false report he gave on the day of the attack. He was acquitted on one count of giving a false report to police at a later date. "That verdict was a resounding message by the jury that, in fact, Mr. Smollett did exactly what we said he did," special prosecutor Dan Webb said at a press conference after the jury's decision was announced.
I think the most telling thing we can take away from the entire Smollett incident is the response tweeted by ex-President Donald Trump when Smollett was initially charged. In the tweet, he called the actor's actions "racist and dangerous." This is one of the terrible side effects that come from weaponizing racism in this manner: you give ammunition to those with political ideologies whose outcomes have actual racist tendencies. That’s what is at the heart of this entire piece.
Has BYU had other scandals involving race as a driving factor? Of course! But when the evidence points towards an accusation of racism being false, it helps to damage all of the other incidents that were race-based by allowing for some to engage in plausible deniability. “If this accusation was false … then what other ones could be?” It’s because of reasons like this we need to see these kinds of false accusations stop. Whether they be based on skin color, geographical location of origin, domestic violence, etc., having someone arrested for something they didn’t do will always end up adding a net negative to the cause. I’m only hoping more people learn this sooner, rather than later.
If you can spare a few bucks to support a starving artist, buy me a coffee!