- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

There is nothing prankish about a noose — no way, no how. A prank is a harmless trick or practical joke usually born of youthful indiscretion. A hate crime is an act that deliberately threatens, intimidates or harms a person or their property born of bias.

Hanging a noose, like burning a cross or spray-painting a swastika, constitutes a hate crime and should never be tolerated.

Last week, to the “dismay” and “shock” of some, a noose was found swinging from a tree near a black cultural center on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.

Ronald Zeigler, director of the Nyumburu Cultural Center at the University of Maryland, said yesterday that “people who really know what a noose symbolizes” are aware that it should not be considered a prank because it “goes much, much deeper than that.”

This hate crime occurred Thursday, a day after Howard University students staged a rally to raise funds for the “Jena 6,” six Louisiana high school students who are victims of blatant prosecutorial discrimination.

The bad news is that racist acts have reared their ugly head in our region. The good news is that students are turning their outrage into action to combat such dastardly deeds of hate and injustice.

Students, faculty and administrators on the Maryland and Howard campuses wasted no time yesterday forging coalitions and solidarity as they speculated whether the hate crime was an isolated gesture, a copycat act or a harbinger of increased insensitivity and intolerance on campuses nationwide.

A town-hall meeting was hastily called for last night after a closed-door meeting yesterday afternoon, Mr. Zeigler said. The Black Student Union is hosting a “speak out” this evening.

“This noose is not just the black, African or Caribbean student’s problem. … It’s everyone’s problem,” Altmann Pannell, president of the Black Student Union, told the Diamondback, the Maryland student newspaper. “We get into our bubble and think life is great, but the outside world is not. Race is still an issue today, regardless of how taboo it might seem.”

Maryland Student Government Association Andrew Friedson issued a statement saying, “Hanging a noose outside of our cultural center is not a prank. It is a painful allusion to the domestic terrorism that plagued our country’s past and a clear indication that our struggle to end racism is not over.”

University of Maryland officials acted swiftly in investigating the discovery of the noose found between the Adele H. Stamp Student Union and the Nyumburu Cultural Center on Thursday and in condemning those who committed this heinous act symbolic of America’s darkest days of lynching black men and women.

University President C.D. Mote Jr. said the school would not tolerate such an “abhorrent” act.

Police are reviewing surveillance tapes and asking students or witnesses to come forward because they have not determined how long the noose had been hanging near Nyumburu, which means “freedom house” in Swahili. The center houses several black cultural associations, classes and social activities such as one held Saturday.

Police had no suspects and were considering a range of motives, including last week’s ruling involving the Louisiana students.

“With the Jena 6 incident, this is too close for comfort,” Kyle Carson, a member of the university group Community Roots, told the Diamondback.

A year ago, several white students in Jena, La., were suspended and mildly reprimanded for “a youthful prank” after they hung three nooses from what was popularly known as “the white tree.”A black student had sat under the tree after asking for permission from school officials. After a fight with a white student who was taunting them with racial epithets, six black students were charged with second-degree aggravated assault with a deadly weapon: a tennis shoe.

Stefanie L. Brown, national director of the Youth & College Division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was among those to caution against prematurely linking the Maryland incident to the Louisiana case. But she said the Maryland hate crime is indicative of the “escalation in hate crimes on campuses across the country,” including blackface parties that “have no disciplinary action as a result.”

Last week, 2,000 Howard University students staged a rally in support of the Jena 6 and their families and pledged to raise $20,000 for their legal defense fund.

Marcus Ware, president of the Howard University Student Association, said the Jena 6 defendants caught their attention because each of them was active in their school, church and sports and “could have been any student at Howard.”

Yesterday, the outraged Mr. Ware was preparing to meet with Maryland campus leaders “to help out in any way we can,” to defuse the tension or to find the culprits because “we won’t stand for it.” As he aptly stated: “No matter what the motive, [hanging a noose] is not OK or something to joke around with and laugh off.”

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