Eastern Michigan University erupted in protests over the last year when racist graffiti, consisting of "KKK" spattered in red, white, and blue spray-paint, along with "leave n*****s," — was discovered on campus on three different occasions. Protests broke out afterwards, while campus authorities sought to soothe frayed nerves and quell students’ emotions.
According to EMU police, the graffiti appear to have been the work of a 29-year-old black man, Eddie Curlin. The former EMU student was arraigned in Washtenaw County District Court on three counts of malicious destruction of property, four counts of identity theft, and one count of using computers to commit a crime. EMU is located in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
On September 20, staff members in the Julia Anne King Hall discovered the graffiti on the walls in the courtyard of the building. On the next day, another racial slur was found in the stairwell of Wise Hall. Students led marches against racism and also protested at a football game. In October, "leave n*****s" was again found on school property, this time in Ford Hall. The last incident was reportedly found in a university men’s lavatory.
Protests broke out and gained national attention and built a racism-in-America narrative. A student identified as “Janee” told BuzzFeed at the time, "We pay for our education just like everyone else, so to see something like that in the morning on our way to class, it’s caused outrage and pain."
Officials at EMU also appeared to see issues beyond vandalism. In a statement he released in response to the graffiti, EMU President James Smith wrote via email: "The deeper and systemic issues that are behind these incidents continue to be a focus for our student leaders, our faculty, our administration and all who care about this institution and the welfare of our students." Smith continued, writing: "These incidents run counter to the values and mission of the University and our actions over the past several weeks and going forth have and will continue to reflect that."
The university went so far as to create a website solely to track updates regarding the vandalism. Updates included a teach-in regarding racism, diversity and inclusion. EMU President Smith created a Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, while there was also a teach-in called 'Know Justice, Know Peace', a campus-wide unity rally, and the provision of psychological and other counseling services to students affected by the vandalism.
Despite the political hullabaloo at the institution, EMU police chief Robert Heighes told the media that the accused vandal’s crimes were "not driven by politics" but merely "self-serving" acts. "It was totally self-serving," Eastern Michigan University Chief of Police Robert Heighes said in a news conference. "It was not driven by politics. It was not driven by race."
Accused vandal Eddie Curlin was already in trouble. Curlin attended EMU from 2014 to early 2016. In 2010, he was sentenced for possession of burglary tools, breaking and entering, and resisting a police officer. He served three years and 10 months on those charges. Curlin is now in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections, serving a 1-to-5-year sentence on a charge of receiving and concealing stolen property. He was sentenced in August. In relation to the EMU case, Curlin is now being charged with three counts of malicious destruction of property, four counts of identity theft, and one count of using computers to commit a crime. Malicious destruction of property is a misdemeanor. Identity theft is a felony, as is the charge of using computers to commit a crime. While police did not betray details of their investigation and how they identified Curlin as a suspect, they did say that a variety of methods, including student interviews and surveillance videos, were used.
According to the Free Press, one student was not satisfied by Curlin’s arrest. Teresa Moore of Ypsilanti told the paper, "Administrators are just going to sweep this right under the rug and say all the race problems are solved."
EMU President Smith did not attend the news conference on Monday, but released a statement instead: "The incidents of vandalism on our campus created significant pain, fear and distress among our students, faculty and staff. I joined with many of our community in my own personal anger over these incidents.
"The many initiatives put in place as a result of the incidents are vitally important and will continue regardless of the outcome of the criminal proceedings. As one of the most diverse higher education institutions in Michigan, Eastern’s commitment to inclusiveness and being a welcoming community for people of all backgrounds is an ongoing priority."