Two Miami University College Students Acquitted in RaceCase
Defense points finger at Black administrator, both sides still smarting
OXFORD, Ohio — The acquittal earlier this month of two former African American students accused of faking a racist hate crime at Miami University here has left faculty, staff and students split in their interpretations of the decision.
The jury, with seven White and one Black panelist, deliberated eight hours before finding Nathaniel Snow of Cincinnati and Brad Allen of suburban Cleveland not guilty of criminal trespass and criminal mischief.
Snow and Allen, both 22, were accused of posting racist and homophobic fliers last year at Miami’s Center for Black Culture and Learning. They were arrested in January and withdrew from school. The fliers triggered campus protests by students, including Snow and Allen, who claimed the university had not reacted swiftly enough to the incident.
The subsequent arrests of two prominent African American students — Snow was president of the school’s Black Student Action Association — shocked the campus. But Snow and Allen strongly denied involvement and said they were being set up by the university they had criticized.
Miami University, located here in largely rural southwestern Ohio, has had difficulty attracting minority students. Last fall, a mere 3.8 percent of the public university’s 16,000 students were African Americans.
Prosecutors based much of their case on fingerprint evidence — Snow and Allen’s prints were found on the fliers. But defense attorneys attacked the investigation by university police as sloppy and implied the fliers might have been posted by Sidney Carthell, Miami’s director of the Center for Black Culture and Learning and assistant director for minority affairs.
Carthell, they contended, could have been motivated by his concern over the center’s possible closing and by race relations at Miami.
In addition, Snow’s attorney told jurors that even if the two students did post the racist fliers, that would not constitute crime because their actions would be protected by the First Amendment’s free-speech protections.
“If they found fliers that say, ‘We Love Jesus,’ we wouldn’t be here,” attorney Kenneth Lawson said in his opening statement.
Neither Snow nor Allen testified at trial, and their attorneys called no defense witnesses. Jurors who decided that prosecutors did not prove their case declined comment afterward.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Allen told the Dayton Daily News after the verdicts. “But it’s not redemption. A not-guilty verdict doesn’t erase guilt in the minds of people.”
Snow, who is considering re-enrolling at the Oxford campus to finish his studies, says, “Look at all of the lost time I can’t be given back. And for what? I always believed in my heart that I was innocent. Why would I risk so much?”
Snow later told Black Issues In Higher Education that the verdicts “opened a lot of eyes on campus. It was a decision that will help students become more aware” of racial injustice. “I’m going to continue to be vocal. I’m going to still be a leader. I will still speak out about injustice.”
But the defense attorneys’ tactics, particularly implicating an African American administrator in the incident, triggered an angry response from the university’s Association of Black Faculty and Staff.
Dr. Rodney D. Coates, director of the university’s Black world studies and an associate professor in the sociology, gerontology and anthropology department, wrote: “[Association members] are extremely concerned with the legal, moral and ethical implications of this verdict and the tactics of the lawyers. Specifically, we believe the defense attorneys, in an effort to obtain a favorable verdict, deliberately trashed not only the First Amendment but also the career of a Black administrator.
“Defense lawyers can do things and insinuate things in a courtroom that if I did in my classroom I would be subject to ridicule if not termination. You see, I am required to provide proof for statements made. But all defense lawyers have to do is raise significant questions. And if the career, reputation and character of another are trashed in the process, well, this is the price we pay for freedom, justice and the America way.”
Coates calls Carthell “one of the rare administrators students have held with a great deal of respect and trust.” He said the not-guilty verdict sent a message to “racists, homophobes, sexual exploiters, religious extremists and bigots of every other conceivable type is that it is open season … at Miami University.”
Miami spokesman Richard Little says reaction among students to the verdicts was muted. “I think most people turned the page on this long ago,” Little says, adding that he believes race relations on campus are stronger than they were a year ago, in part because of the unity rallies and other events that followed the fliers’ posting.
Aziza Nicholson, president of Miami’s Black Student Action Association, says the incident has brought African American and White students together. “It made people realize that Miami is not such a happy, diverse place,” she says. “But it helped us to learn and appreciate each other’s differences.”
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