Monday, February 11, 2008

One solved 

The city of St. Cloud has decided no crime was committed by the student who had admitted to drawing a swastika on a chalkboard in a dorm (as discussed on this blog here.)

The swastika, which the student admitted drawing to �see if it would attract media attention,� is offensive but not illegal, according to a memorandum written by Assistant City Attorney Matthew Staehling. The student was identified in Staehling�s memo as an 18-year-old freshman.

The student drew the 3-inch by 3-inch swastika on a chalkboard inside Stearns Hall. Because the swastika was easily erased and didn�t require paint to conceal and didn�t cause any permanent damage to property, the incident was not criminal damage to property, Staehling wrote. The student denied any involvement in any of the other numerous acts of graffiti on campus that have been reported in the last three months.

The swastika is protected speech under the First Amendment, Staehling wrote, because the symbol doesn�t amount to �fighting words� that would be subject to a charge of disorderly conduct.

The swastika, Staehling wrote, �is protected as symbolic speech just as other offensive forms of speech are protected.�

Other uses of the swastika on campus could constitute a crime, he wrote, including the images that have had to be painted over or caused other damage to property.

The newspaper declined to publish the name of the student, but it is in the AP wire service story picked up by many other newspapers (based on the WJON reporting.) I will not repost the name here, but the link takes you to a name that would not call up an image of a rural white kid upset with diversity education. (A student is a freshman, and last year a student with that name wrestled for a Twin Cities-area high school. I assume my curious readers know Google, so finding the name and other details reported here will not be seen as private.)

City Attorney Jan Peterson was reported in the WJON piece to have said that "other recent swastika cases could be prosecuted as criminal if they meet the vandalism or "fighting words" standards." These have been the standards I have argued for from the very start. If we catch the people responsible for the "Student Cultural Center" (Multicultural Student Services, I think?) vandalism might meet that standard. The rest? We have graffiti that could be classified as vandalism or not, plus the so-far unsolved and unconfirmed report by a student of first being spat upon and then confronted with a salute that was described as one used by Nazis.

Because charges were not filed, it's unlikely the most severe penalties will be placed on the student according to the AP report. The Code of Conduct will be used, and a chalkboard swastika has to be found on this list of prohibited conducts for sanctions to apply.