“What Happens If the Wolf Cries Wolf?”
I testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary for the hearing, “Combatting the Rise in Hate Crimes.” My 5 minute remarks are below.
Good morning, Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Grassley, and members of the Committee on the Judiciary, with a special Louisiana hello to Senator Kennedy.
My name is Walter Kimbrough and I am the president of Dillard University in New Orleans. I am in my 18th year as an HBCU president, 10th at Dillard and 7 1.2 at Philander Smith College in Little Rock. I also have the pleasure of currently serving as chair of the council of member presidents of the 37 HBCUs which make up the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).
We are all familiar with the story of the boy who cried wolf, which dates back to the 1400s, and even told today as my 13-year-old son indicated he knew the story. After repeated cries for help when there was no wolf, the village stops responding and the wolf eats the sheep.
Over the past few weeks I have begun to wonder, what happens if the wolf cries wolf?
Since the beginning of January, we have seen an unprecedented number of threats against historically Black colleges and universities. These threats, the vast majority being bomb threats, have directly impacted almost half of the sector. For all practical purposes, every HBCU has been threatened. No other American institution has had such a large percentage of its constituency threatened.
These threats have disrupted normal operations, causing classes to be cancelled or hastily moved online, unsettled students and parents already weary from the two year toll of COVID, and in cities like New Orleans, disrupted last fall by a hurricane which left an entire, major American city without power for days, these threats take an even heavier toll.
There are three points I wish to make today. Returning to my analogy, the wolves have evolved. Described by the FBI as tech savvy juveniles, HBCUs have received threats via numerous formats. Phone calls in the middle of the night or at random times during the day. Threats via e-mail. Messages sent via gaming systems that can easily be missed. And while the bomb threats have garnered headlines, we have undercounted the threats to HBCUs. Murals on campuses defaced. Phone threats to intimidate students from voting or establishing polling locations on campus.
The use of sophisticated technology has allowed these attacks to go unpunished now for two months.
This leads to my second point. We need Federal law enforcement agencies to redouble their efforts to catch the wolves. Until the wolves realize that they can be caught and publicly held accountable, there is nothing to stop these threats from continuing. The lack of accountability does not only empower those who are engaging in these disruptions but may encourage others to participate in this menacing mischief.
This leads to my final point. You may have asked yourself, why did he suggest that the wolf is crying wolf? To date, there have been no bombs found, not even any evidence of a plan to actually bomb an institution. Due to the high number of threats, local agencies in some cities have modified their response.
This new response now includes the elimination of bomb sweeps. Due to a lack of resources to conduct sweeps, or based on the high volume of hoaxes against HBCUs nationwide, some campuses have not benefitted from full sweeps and are left to determine an all-clear using their campus police and facilities teams.
We are more vulnerable now than at the beginning of the threats. The wolves have cried wolf. The village responds but doesn’t look for any wolves. We are at a point where there may be a wolf on campus, and it is now up to the boy to find it.
Samuel Croxall, the Anglican writer who wrote a version of this story, said “when we are alarmed with imaginary dangers in respect of the public, till the cry grows quite stale and threadbare, how can it be expected we should know when to guard ourselves against real ones?”
We need a new plan from Federal, State and local law enforcement, a way to quickly and efficiently determine the veracity of threats, and not leave this for the campus officials without the tools to be able to complete this task thoroughly. Again, the priority needs to be catching those who are making the threats. The same intensity of manpower and technology used to track and thwart international terrorist cells is required to disband the domestic terrorists. As the real life hunting of wolves has evolved from a huge capital and manpower intensive operation to a more sophisticated approach, the same is required to end the threats against HBCUs.
The wolves have cried wolf almost sixty times in two months. We know they’re doing it. We need to catch them before they show up.
FYI- the entire hearing, as well as my full written testimony, can be found here: