The student police have charged with doodling racial graffiti last month on a resident assistant’s dry-eraser board in Hinman College’s Cleveland Hall is apologizing, but he says he’s a victim of hate harassment, too.
Sophomore Justin M. Friedman said that before transferring here just a month before the crime, he had been teased at SUNY Plattsburgh with anti-Semitic jokes and swastikas on his own marker board — and that he graffitied to “raise awareness.”
“I had a roommate who called me ‘Christ-killer’ daily. That was pretty hard to take,” he said, noting that he was the target of one suitemate who “didn’t particularly like Jews.”
Friedman’s handiwork, which included a swastika and a racist term for black people, triggered a campus firestorm shortly after it was discovered Sept. 19.
The political science and history major said he’s neither racist nor anti-Semitic — his father is Israeli and his Facebook profile describes himself as a “Zionist Jew” — but was just trying to stir up campus conversation about racial and religious intolerance.
“I’m not racist against African-Americans. I want to personally apologize to them and tell them I didn’t mean it that way, because that’s a very offensive thing.”
He hoped a transfer from Plattsburgh would end the hate, but in the early-morning hours of Sept. 19 it followed him here. He said an e-mail and two Jew-bashing phone calls from a former tormentor he called “a real bigot” pushed him over the edge.
“So I said, ‘What’s the world coming to? Do people even care about this kind of thing anymore? If I put this out there, maybe people will realize racism and anti-Semitism is still an issue and we have to deal with it,’” he said, adding that he wondered whether people would care.
Neighbors voiced outrage; the Hinman College hall held a tolerance forum; Binghamton’s campus police launched a hate-crime investigation; and there’s a “March against Hate” scheduled for 4 p.m. today in the Old University Union’s Tillman Lobby.
“I guess you could say I wasn’t thinking,” Friedman said. “I love Binghamton, I love the diversity. I was so excited about coming here, and it’s depressing.”
Friedman said police told him three eyewitnesses identified him, and he confessed his story and his excuses.
“I wanted to come forward so bad, but I was so afraid of what would happen,” he said. “I wanted to say ‘I’m so sorry, this is wasn’t I intended to do.’ But would people accept that? I was afraid that I’d be hurt.”
Friedman was arraigned in Vestal Town Court Tuesday on misdemeanor criminal mischief charges that carry a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. He will be arraigned Oct. 12 in connection with a marijuana ticket issued after a police search of his dorm room.
He also faces campus discipline charges for the marijuana. Officials kicked him out of the dorms pending an investigation, but he withdrew from school Wednesday. He hopes to return next semester if officials permit him.
Aaron Slonim, director of BU’s Chabad House, a Jewish student center, said he was “saddened” to learn of the arrest, but “relieved that the perpetrator had been found and that this was not the work of an evil person as much as a desperate cry for attention by a young person in an unsettled state of mind.”
And BU’s Black Student Union was ready to consider forgiving.
“If he wants to speak, we’re willing to listen. If he wants to apologize to BSU, he’s more than welcome — nobody’s in a better position to speak about his activities than he is,” said BSU president Andrea Dozier. She said that she strongly disagreed with his methods, adding reaching out to cultural organizations is a better way than hate graffiti to raise awareness.
“Regardless of whether he’s sorry, this isn’t an isolated incident,” she added. “It’s a big issue that needs to be dealt with.”