A Missouri college student who made threats on the social media app Yik Yak to "shoot every black person I see" was sentenced to five years probation on Thursday.
The prosecution had asked for a prison sentence of three years for the student, Hunter Park, but Judge Kevin Crane instead gave him probation, without making any public explanation for his decision, the Columbia Missourian reported.
Park, a former student at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, was arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat in November and pled guilty in April. He posted several messages threatening black students on Yik Yak, which allows users to make anonymous posts. Authorities were able to connect the messages to his phone number and IP address.
"Some of you are alright. Don’t come to campus tomorrow," he wrote. "I’m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see."
The messages came in the middle of a controversy over alleged racism at the University of Missouri, when students protested and held hunger strikes and eventually forced several administrators at the school to resign. During the night the threats were made, black students walked through campus linked arm in arm out of fear of being attacked.
As a convicted felon, Park will not be able to legally own a firearm for the rest of his life. During his three-year probation, he will also have restrictions on how he can use the internet.
But his sentence could have been far more severe—the terrorist threat charge could have carried a prison term of up to seven years.
More than 60 people came to the courtroom either in support of Park or to protest his actions. Shayana McQuitty, a member of the University of Missouri social justice activism group "Race Matters, Friends" told the Missourian she thought the sentence was unjustly low.
“If there was a black man up there, there would have been a different outcome,” she said.
Park's attorney, Jeffrey Hilbrenner, said that wasn't true. A few days after Park was arrested, a black student named Paris Lovett was arrested in the town of Marshall, Mo., after making a similar threat on Yik Yak. He wrote, "We should've have (sic) been wiser and tried to help you sloppy European (expletive)… But it's a new age and I can write (sic) my ancestors (sic) wrong and just start killing y'all off."
Lovett also received only probation, and had his charge reduced to a misdemeanor while Park received a felony, Hilbrenner said.
Hilbrenner had asked the judge for a suspended imposition of sentence, which would have kept the charge on Park's criminal record. The judge declined.
Brouck Jacobs, the prosecutor in the case, told me he thought the probation sentence was a "middle ground."
"Incarceration was what we preferred for the sentence, and that was what our recommendation was," Jacobs said. "The judge makes the final decision and that's what happened."
Judge Crane did not respond to requests for comment.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.