Student Behind Racist Message on Berkeley High Computer ID'd

Berkeley High School students marched through the city Nov. 5 protesting racist messages placed on a school library computer the day before.  (Andrew Stelzer/KQED)

Update, 4:45 p.m. Thursday:

Berkeley High School Principal Sam Pasarow said the student who altered a library computer Wednesday afternoon to display threatening racist messages has been identified.

"The student is going to face pretty serious consequences," Pasarow told KQED's Devin Katayama. "I’m certainly a leader who believes in (repairing) harm in lieu of traditional discipline. This act, however -- due to it being on the kind of hate crime, terroristic threat level -- does have some mandatory consequence pathways we need to follow."

Pasarow declined to identify the student. He said the administration's investigation found it unlikely that the student actually planned to hurt anyone, contrary to one of the statements posted on the computer: "KKK FOREVER PUBLIC LYNCHING DECEMBER 9TH 2015"

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"This student is still a Berkeley High School student and still has rights," Pasarow said. "We did probe the student’s motive, and my sense is that the motive in writing these comments was not to actually carry them out. Other motives did come up in the conversation that I’m not going to address right now."

Thousands of students took to the streets instead of the classroom on Thursday in a massive peaceful demonstration against the latest in a string of racially charged incidents at Berkeley High School, including a noose discovered hanging from a tree a year ago.

"Last year, people thought it was really ambiguous and they weren’t really quite sure what the meaning of the noose was," said Berkeley High senior D’Yale Adams. There was speculation that the noose may have been linked to a student's suicide, and may not have been a racist statement.

"This year it's more like an actual threat against African-American students," Adams said. "It's an actual threat against my life.”

The incident drew condemnation from beyond the students and faculty at Berkeley High.

"I'm outraged at this despicable racist threat; it is totally out of line with Berkeley's values," Mayor Tom Bates wrote in a prepared statement. "These racial slurs remind us that racism is still alive, even in Berkeley."

Pasarow said the school will likely have to report the student behind the incident to police, but at this point it's unclear whether he'll face criminal charges.

The school plans to beef up security on Monday, at the request of the campus Black Student Union. An assembly is also planned to "uplift African-American culture, and try to really unify the campus around the positive contributions of our African-American students," Pasarow said.

Original Post 12:50 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5:

Hundreds of students walked out of Berkeley High School this morning to protest an apparent hack that set a school library computer's home page to display racist and violent messages.

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City police estimate the demonstration had grown to more than 700 people when it reached UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza shortly before noon. However, district officials, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, estimated that 2,000 of the school's 3,000 students had left school grounds to take part in the march.

Berkeleyside reports the messages were discovered Wednesday afternoon. Principal Sam Pasarow sent out an email alerting the high school community about the messages late Wednesday night.

“A hateful and racist message was discovered on one of the library computers, containing threatening language toward African Americans," he wrote, according to Berkeleyside. "The administration is looking into who posted this message and I urge students, staff, parents and guardians to please contact the school at 510-644-6121 if you have any information about this matter.”

He said the investigation into who posted the threats would involve the Berkeley Police Department.

One speaker at today's demonstration said the response from Pasarow came only after emails and posts from the school's Black Student Union.

Students also pointed out that a noose was discovered on the campus last year, which Vice Principal Jorge Melgoza described as an "act of hate," and said it was "a clear and stark reminder that racism is alive and well in this country."

The school also recalled its yearbook in June after what an administrator described as an "offensive and racist" message about the school's Academy of Medicine and Public Service, which has a large number of black and Hispanic students.

"In the past acts of terror committed against the black student body have been ignored," Black Student Union members said in a statement. "We will not allow this to be trivialized like these other horrific instances."

Berkeleyside is live blogging the protest.

Andrew Stelzer, Alex Helmick, Devin Katayama and Alex Emslie of KQED contributed to this report.

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This post contains reporting from Berkeleyside and Bay City News.

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