The University of Miami Police Department (UMPD) has identified a University of Miami student as the man seen on video surveillance camera stealing a Black Lives Matter (BLM) banner from the University Center (UC) Breezeway March 2.
According to a UMPD report, junior Jackson Stewart, 21, was identified by UMPD from surveillance footage of him taking down the banner. Stewart’s car, a blue BMW convertible, was seen driving into campus earlier that night.
UMPD detectives spoke to Stewart March 23, nearly 20 days after the theft, and he admitted to taking down the banner. Stewart said he took down the banner and threw it away because he was “embarrassed” by it, according to the report.
Stewart told Hurricane reporters he decided to take down the sign because he believes political statements like the banner to be “antithetical” to an open learning environment. He also said the sign was in violation of the student handbook because it did not clearly identify who the sponsoring organization was.
“I thought it was abandoned property,” he said in a phone interview.
The 2016-17 Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook contains no mention of banners having to display the name of the sponsoring organization.
Stewart said he later found the banner was sponsored by the Yellow Rose Society, but because it was unlabeled, it made it seem like the university was behind the message. He said he was willing to compensate the owner for the value of the banner.
Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely gave Yellow Rose Society, a community service organization made up of minority women, the programming funds to purchase the banner for Black Awareness Month.
Whitely declined to comment because it is against university policy for administrators to comment on any student disciplinary action. Stewart said he was appealing the decision, and the process would come to a conclusion next week, when he meets with Whitely.
The banner was hung in the breezeway Feb. 6 and was reported missing March 7 by University Associate Director Brandon Gross. Gross said the banner was scheduled to come down that day, but when he went to take it down, he realized it was gone.
Though the crime was classified as a theft, UMPD Captain Bill Gerlach said it is up to the university to decide whether or not to press charges. There are no charges filed, Gerlach said.
“It’s up to the victim – being the University of Miami, being whichever representative – and whether or not they want to file charges through the state attorney’s office,”he said.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office could not be reached for comment.
According to a supplementary report on March 23, UMPD Sergeant Roberto Navarro contacted Gross about the identification. Gross then forwarded the matter to UM Dean of Students Ricardo Hall.
Though the individual who stole the banner has been identified, senior Jaime Royal, who said she spent six months gathering petition signatures and support for the banner, said she hasn’t been updated on the case.
“I’m just frustrated because I feel like the school has not communicated with me at all,” Royal said. “I was the one that had to put six months of effort to put it up and for no one to communicate any of this with me … It’s very disheartening.”
Royal said, though she is upset the banner was taken down and thrown away after so much of her time and effort put into it, she doesn’t hold a grudge against Stewart for what he did.
“I’m not shocked that he wasn’t arrested,” Royal said. “I never wanted him to necessarily be arrested … So I’m not upset about that because at the end of the day he’s still a human. He still has a life. I wouldn’t want this to severely jeopardize him.”
When asked for an interview, Stewart issued the following statement to The Miami Hurricane via e-mail.
“I sincerely apologize for any student, member of the community or organization that was hurt by this incident,” the message read.
For Royal, the apology was not convincing. She said he was probably just upset he got caught and would face repercussions as a result of the theft. However, she said she believes and hopes the university community will grow from the incident.
“We just want to feel like we matter,” Royal said. “We want to feel like our voice is important, especially as a black student, when it feels like it hasn’t for so long.”