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Mitchell: Five black college athletes in Oklahoma arrested after robbery prank

Updated: September 3, 2013 7:13AM

I don’t know what would possess five black college athletes to put on ski masks and pretend to be robbers in an age when black males are often profiled as criminals.

But that’s what happened last April Fool’s Day in Durant, Okla., where the athletes played football for Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

The fake robberies were part of an elaborate hoax in which the black males burst into three apartments, woke up two female victims and put a cell phone to their heads as if it were a weapon.

No real guns were displayed and nothing was stolen from any of the victims.

Krishon Daye of Chicago, along with Matthew Leatherwood, Arinzechukwu Eziakor, and Jercolby Bradley of Dallas, Texas and Keith Craddock of Charlotte, N.C., later turned themselves in to law enforcement, and allegedly admitted being involved.

Besides being expelled from the university, the football players were each charged with five misdemeanors and one felony — conspiracy to engage in a pattern of criminal offenses.

“They put on some hockey masks and went into the homes of some white friends and said, “stick-up,” and actually a couple of people really panicked,” acknowledged the Rev. Ira J. Acree of the Greater St. John Bible Church, and a representative of the Chicago affiliate of the National Action Network.

Acree and the Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr., of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on the city’s West Side were in Durant on Wednesday to bring attention to the harsh discipline being meted out in this case.

“I don’t want a felony on these kids. When you become a felon there are multiple jobs you can’t do. These parents have sacrificed their hard earned money and sweat equity to get [their sons] a quality education. With a felony, they can’t even open a barbershop. That is a death sentence,” he said.

Alan Burton, the communications director at the university, declined comment citing student privacy.

“We are very limited in what we can discuss,” he said. “Right now, it is has gone to the criminal justice system.”

Emily Redman, district attorney for the 19th District of Oklahoma, told reporters earlier, “we felt criminal charges were in fact appropriate at this time.”

Defense lawyers and prosecutors met at the courthouse on Wednesday for a preliminary hearing, which means the criminal case is moving forward.

Meanwhile, the local branch of the NAACP has sued the university on behalf of the athletes in an effort to get the institution to release transcripts and allow the three seniors to graduate.

That these young men didn’t see the danger in this prank should alarm every black parent that is packing a son off to college.

“It makes me want to come back to Chicago to teach these kids and prepare them for these college campuses. They don’t understand what a felony can do to them,” Acree said.

Durant’s population is 85 percent white, 10 percent Native American and 5 percent black.

“Maybe other people could get away with pretending to be criminals, black people can’t do it. It was a big deal down here,” he said.

Daye grew up on the West Side. He had just finished his finals and was mere weeks away from walking across the stage to claim his degree.

“It is frustrating. These parents are working class parents. They are spending money they don’t have for legal representation,” Acree said.

Obviously, the young men should be punished for their bad behavior. The young men, as Hatch pointed out, “played into the ready fears and basic stereotypes of black criminality.”

“It really was painful to have this conversation. We had to tell these guys: ‘With all the friends and all of the adulation that you got from the university, the blood, sweat and tears that parents put into your careers, because you are African American, there are some pranks you can’t do,” Hatch said.

“You are born with the profile of a criminal in the minds of some people and it becomes very dangerous to play a criminal as a prank,” he said.

“They are absolutely remorseful. We don’t want them to have to pay for the rest of their lives for a mistake,” Hatch added.

Acree is encouraging people to call the university’s president, Larry Minks at 580-745-2512, and ask him to release the seniors’ transcripts.

Punishment that is overly harsh doesn’t instruct.

It just breeds bitterness.

Email: Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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