TODAY'S QUESTION: How should the students be punished for cotton ball incident?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010 | 12:16 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — What is the proper punishment for the students who apologized for the cotton ball incident?

Two MU students, freshman Sean Fitzgerald, 19, and senior Zachary Tucker, 21, were arrested and temporarily suspended Wednesday on suspicion of tampering in the second degree after cotton balls were scattered Feb. 26 in front of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center.

The students issued an apology for the incident through their attorneys Friday morning and detailed “a series of foolish acts” committed throughout the night. These other acts included “riding” the tiger at the South Quad, climbing on the statue at Faurot Field and hoisting a pirate flag at the ROTC building.

Tucker personally apologized to the center’s director, Nathan Stephens. Stephens said he expressed no ill will toward him and accepted Tucker’s apology on behalf of the center.

Kristen Andrews and Lisa White, leaders in the Legion of Black Collegians, indicated they would be willing to forgive Fitzgerald and Tucker for their actions.

Andrews said it is in her nature to forgive and White said she would like to forgive them because of her religious beliefs.

Tucker’s attorney, Christopher Slusher, said he doesn’t believe the incident could be considered a hate crime. However, Eric Miller, associate professor of law at St. Louis University, said the hate crime charge could stick if prosecutors can prove the cotton balls were a reference to race.

The students will learn their academic fates after the student conduct review process.

What do you think should be an appropriate punishments for the duo involved in the cotton ball incident?



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Mark Johnson March 9, 2010 | 4:22 a.m.

They should have to pick up the cotton balls and be given a small fine for littering. Then we should all sit back and, with a sense of humor, await an equally harmless "retaliatory" prank against the European-American Cultural Center.

(Report Comment)
gary miller March 9, 2010 | 6:50 a.m.

Hate crimes laws were designed and should only be used for cases where a terroristic threat was made. They are not a means to stifle free speech, regardless of whether that speech is reprehensible. Racist thoughts, speech, etc. are not a hate crime. You do not have a right to not be offended or insulted because of your race. You do have a right not to be threatened. Cotton balls may be implying that you should go back to picking cotton but it is not a threat of violence like a noose hanging from your tree or a cross burning in your yard. Those are implied threats because they are directed at a specific person and imply violence. The cotton balls were a harmless attempt at humor at others expense. Racist? Probably. Criminal? No.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush March 9, 2010 | 11:29 a.m.

Littering is a Class A misdemeanor.
It is defined in the City Ordinance Sec. 16-231. The fine is $1,000 - Sec. 16-66. It seems that a judge could decide if each individual cotton ball is an act of littering, or if the whole event is a a single act of littering.
Actions have consequences, and we do ourselves and our community a disservice by referring to this abominable act as a harmless "prank."
A "hate crime" does not need to to have violence associated with the act. It can be an act of harassment that "without good cause engages in any other act with the purpose to frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress to another person, cause such person to be frightened, intimidated, or emotionally distressed, and such person's response to the act is one of a person of average sensibilities considering the age of such person." (Mo Code 565-090 1(6))
The legal test is "reasonable person." Since I'm not a target of the harassment, my test of "reasonable person" is insignificant.
With respect to these boys, we a community should neither cast them away as unredeemable nor excuse them as pranksters. There is a middle ground. And that middle should be rooted in fairness, equity and justice - and the policies of both the university and the city.

(Report Comment)

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