An Explosion of Violence near Tuskegee U

August 20, 2016 4 By Michael
Since 2013 Tuskegee University has been plagued with violence on campus and in close proximity of the campus. These violent acts have led to two murders and five severely wounded students or visitors at or near the campus. Photo Credits: Frank H. Lee

Since 2013 Tuskegee University has been plagued with violence on campus and in close proximity of the campus. These violent acts have led to two murders and five severely wounded students or visitors at or near the campus.
Photo Credits: Frank H. Lee

Why is there so much recent violence near the campus of Tuskegee University?

Forty-six years ago today, I set foot on this historic campus in pursuit of a degree in political science. I can’t recall anyone dying from gunshot wounds during my three years on campus. I can’t recall a single student fight. There may have been some down on the football field during pre-season drills, but no altercations between students or between a non-student and a student.

The only deaths I recall from the early 70s were a male student who died in his sleep after a night of heavy drinking and the female nursing student who went missing and turned up dead in the woods. The facts of these incidents were quickly swept under the rug. The student population went on their merry way feeling secure within the unlocked Lincoln Gates.

Members of the public always came onto to campus to hang out. Some would later enroll in a degree granting program, but there was not any noticeable tension between guys from the city of Tuskegee and the student body.

Something has happened!

Since 2013, there has been a noticeable increase in violence on or near the campus of Tuskegee University. Students have been the victims of some of this violence, as well as the perpetrators of some of this mayhem.

Much of this violence has happened or started at off campus locations and spilled onto campus. At least one campus shooting started and ended there. In April 2015, the university invited the Atlanta hip-hop rapper Young Thug to perform on campus. It is well known, that Young Thug’s entourage is in mortal combat with a rival hip-hop artist in the Atlanta community and fights usually break out at his concerts.

So this group showed up at Young Thug’s concert in the Daniel Chappie James Arena. Several fights broke-out inside the arena. The fights spilled over onto the outside where at least one non-student was shot. Also, that night, several members of the women’s basketball team fought with a female student from Birmingham and for a time, continued to threaten this student through social media posts. I have the screenshots of these threats.

This past April, two male students were shot in the parking lot of their campus dormitory by a fellow student after leaving an altercation with the shooter, their classmate, at an off-campus location.

This week’s murder of a n0n-student on the edge of the grassy mall between Logan hall and Armstrong Hall was a continuation of an argument that started in the Burger King about a mile and a half away. This fight continued past the Grey Columns which houses the president and his family behind a secure wrought iron fence, and ended just close enough to Alabama State Highway 126 that university officials could state with a straight face,  the shooting happened off campus.

This shooting was too close for comfort as the Zetas were hosting their annual beginning of school party in Logan Hall in an area bounded by the Fissell Library on one side and Armstrong Hall on the other. Members of the student community could have easily been wounded by stray bullets. Thankfully, none were. But a 2013 incident between rival Tuskegee gangs, about 100 yards from where this shooting occurred, took the life of BJ Smith, a very popular student-athlete.

While I was working on this story, a parent called to tell me that a member of the football team was dismissed from school this week because a gun was found in his room. This parent’s child reports that guns are numerous on Tuskegee’s campus.

These are indeed violent times in which we live. It would not be reasonable to expect that Tuskegee University would be immuned from the violence that is running wild in the larger community.

There are a couple of things unique to the Tuskegee experience that makes security more problematical than at other universities. For instance, designated status of certain Tuskegee properties as National Historic Sites makes it almost impossible to exclude the public from coming on campus and the fact that Alabama State Highway 126 runs through the campus permits direct public access.

Furthermore, given the fact that during the August commencement exercise, Tuskegee’s president Brian Johnson, told a Wall Street Journal reporter, that he enrolls a large number of people that he knows lack the educational tools to successfully obtain a degree from Tuskegee University; and without any programs in place to help them become successful, compounds the campuses’ security concerns.

Correspondingly, this knowledge of his pool of students, should tell the university that more should be done to ensure the socialization, in terms of conflict resolution, of such a student population.  Additionally, it is probably a good idea not to bring onto campus entertainers who agitate for violence during their concerts.

Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.