Investigators have classified two recent pipe bomb blasts at Florida A&M University as hate crimes, based on racist comments made in anonymous telephone calls to a local television station after each explosion.
No one was injured by the explosions at the historically black college in Tallahassee on Aug. 31 and last Wednesday, but the blasts have created a sense of fear and bewilderment among the school's 12,000 students. Campus security has been tightened, and a reward for information regarding the case has been increased from $16,000 to $25,000.
Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who authorized $200,000 for police overtime and the installation of security cameras on campus, denounced the bombings. "It's either a hateful crime, terrorism or a racist act. It doesn't matter which of the three. They're all terrible," Bush said in an interview yesterday.
"A lot of students are scared to come to school," said Omar Kelly, editor of the Famuan, the student newspaper. "There are tons of police officers and FBI-looking persons on campus, and driving to campus I was stopped three times, and when I got on campus I was stopped once."
No similar incidents have been reported recently around Tallahassee, where the racial climate was described as peaceful by a local Urban League leader and a Florida A&M spokesman. Although the university and nearby Florida State University were founded during the era of legally sanctioned segregation, the two schools have in recent years formed cooperative relations and share some academic programs.
Both bombs went off in men's bathrooms--the first in the main administration building and the second in a building that houses classrooms and computer and lab facilities. The first blast bore a small hole in a wall, and the second, stronger one caused a ceiling to collapse. After each blast, classes were canceled for the rest of the day.
In calls to a local television station, a man used racial epithets and warned of more violence, but he did not directly take responsibility for the bombings. On Wednesday, a male caller described Florida A&M students as intellectually inferior and said, "So this is just the beginning, brother." The Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded that the bombings were hate crimes, based on the content of the phone calls.
Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, called for action to prevent further violence and said he would travel to the state capital to lead Sunday's prayer service at a local church.
The FBI is leading the investigation, with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, local police and the county sheriff's department.