Bomb-threatened Black schools eligible for security grants

FILE - Vice President Kamala Harris speaks, March 4, 2022, in her ceremonial office at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris is set to announce that historically Black colleges and universities, many of which recently received bomb threats, are eligible for federal campus security grants. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File) (Jacquelyn Martin, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – Historically Black colleges and universities victimized by recent bomb threats can apply for federal grants under a program designed to help improve campus security and provide mental health resources, Vice President Kamala Harris announced Wednesday.

Harris said more than 80 anonymous bomb threats against historically Black colleges and universities and churches, as well as synagogues and other faith-based and academic institutions, had “brought fear and anxiety to places of peace.”

“They have caused classes to be canceled, dorms to be locked down and communities of faith to be kept apart,” she said at a White House event. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Homeland Security Deputy Secretary John Tien also participated.

The vice president said historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, where the learning was disrupted by the bomb threats are now eligible for Project School Emergency Response to Violence program grants through the U.S. Education Department.

Awards typically range from $50,000 to $150,000 and the money can be used to hire mental health professionals, improve campus security and provide training for security staff.

At least 36 historically Black colleges and universities, more than one-third of the 101 HBCUs in the United States, have been targeted with bomb threats since January 2022, according to the House Oversight Committee, which has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on the matter.

More than a dozen of these schools were targeted in February, which is Black History Month. No devices were found at the institutions that were threatened.

The FBI is investigating the threats as “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism and hate crimes.”

“Every American should be able to learn, work, worship and gather without fear,” Harris said. "A harm against any one of our communities is a harm against all of us.”

Harris also addressed Wednesday's anniversary of the fatal shootings of eight people last March at Atlanta-area spas, including six women of Asian descent. She joined President Joe Biden on a visit to Atlanta shortly after the killings.

Biden remembered the victims, saying in a written statement that the killings “underscored how far we have to go” to fight racism, misogyny and all forms of hate, as well as gun violence.

Harris said the shootings were a reminder of the “terrible cost of violence, xenophobia and hate.”

Dietra Trent, executive director of the White House initiative on historically Black colleges and universities, said the threats, particularly during Black History Month, were “uniquely traumatic" given the history of bombings as a tool of intimidation during the civil rights movement.

“In this context, even the threat of bombings at HBCUs can have a deep and unsettling impact on students, faculty, and staff that significantly disrupts the learning environment," Trent said in a statement.

Harris spoke a day after the White House announced that her husband, Doug Emhoff, had tested positive for COVID-19. Harris tweeted later Tuesday that he was doing fine and that she had tested negative and would continue to be tested.