Two years ago, dozens of presidents from historically black colleges and universities pledged increased attention and discourse on the issue of gun violence in the United States. Their appeal followed police shootings in several cities where black men were fatally victimized by police officers.
Since that letter, federal statistics reveal that there have been more than 640 incidents of mass shootings (four or more people shot in one location at one time) in the United States between 2017 and today, when members of a synagogue in suburban Pittsburgh were assaulted by a lone gunman during worship.
The numbers on mass shootings are increasing. The number of recognized hate groups is growing, with the greatest concentration of organizations in states where HBCUs are located. And as of 2016, African Americans were the ethnic group with members most likely to be victimized by a hate crime.
HBCU board members, presidents and directors of public safety must prepare for the growing possibility of an HBCU being the site of a tragic act of domestic, race-based terrorism. While mass shootings or bombings can take place anywhere, the intersections of hate, social anxiety and opportunity run right through HBCU campuses.
American hate is rediscovering despicable forms. With mid-term elections just weeks away, certain political outcomes could generate more violence towards people at large, and specifically people of color.
In the enclaves where hate is clearly growing you’ll find HBCUs; byproducts of hate from generations ago which continue to transform a race and a nation for the better. Our campuses and our culture could not withstand a large-scale attack; we’ve seen the national coverage which results from neighborhood crime which finds its way onto our campuses.
So what does preparation look like? Many folks would believe it to be more personnel and more encouragement for students to be mindful of their surroundings and willing to report strange people and movements on campuses. But those are ideas for when a campus visitor or stakeholder can easily blend into our campus communities; the emerging challenge is when a madman arrive on campus with artillery to spare and a plan requiring mere seconds to create mayhem.
Functioning security cameras. Active shooter drills and blueprints. Assessments of campus access points and building entry systems. Agreements with local police, fire and emergency response agencies. Trustees should be asking presidents, and presidents asking their police chiefs about the status of these security touchpoints in advance of a crisis, not in the moments after one has started.
The goal is not to stop a lunatic with guns from killing indiscriminately; nothing can stop that. It is about getting faculty, students and staff aware and skilled enough to limit the loss of life in such a scenario, while making sure that the institution can claim a proactive approach to security in an era of intense sociopolitical attitudes and a growing willingness to act upon them.
Responsibly planning for domestic terrorism against HBCUs is not fear mongering, but strategic planning for dealing with life in a fragile democracy. Every single progressive movement in American history has attracted violence from agents of opposition; no one knows this reality better than black people.
The twisted plans of some, or even one zealot driven to help make America great again can turn HBCUs into a countercultural commodity. Our schools, our communities, and our lives are more important than that, and our leaders must be out front in making that clear through planning and preparation.