Hangman’s Noose found hanging at Univ of Maryland Black Cultural Center

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noose

Hat Tip: David Schoetz, ABC News

A noose was left hanging from a tree limb near a black cultural studies center on an American college campus.

That’s the scenario that University of Maryland police, with help from the FBI, are investigating as a possible hate crime that may be tied to a similar racial controversy playing out in Louisiana.

Students and faculty at the university’s Nyumburu Cultural Center reported the noose to police Friday afternoon, Paul Dillon, a spokesman for the University of Maryland Police Department, told ABC News. The building has been a meeting point for the university’s black students and faculty for 27 years. Nyumburu is the Swahili word for “freedom house.”

The noose already had been removed by the maintenance staff when police first took the report, but not before an unidentified student took a picture of the scene and e-mailed the image to police. It shows a roughly 3-foot white rope hanging 10 to 12 feet off the ground and ending with a small noose.

Police issued a campuswide e-mail Friday night regarding the discovery and marking the beginning of the formal investigation.

“We will treat this like any other serious crime on campus,” Dillon said, “interviewing witnesses and developing a timeline.”

It remains unclear when the noose was originally hung from the tree and who may be behind the apparent hate message. Dillon said creating a timeline will be key and might allow investigators to pinpoint surveillance video of the area showing the perpetrator or perpetrators.

There is recent precedent for racially motivated disputes on the Maryland campus. In 1999, police investigated a series of disparaging letters sent to some of the university’s black leaders. No charges were filed, Dillon said, but police did “get to the bottom” of the harassing letters.

Connection With the ‘Jena Six’?

Dillon also would not rule out a connection between the noose found on the College Park, Md., campus and the ongoing, high-profile racial controversy in Jena, La. Racial tensions remain high in the Louisiana town as sentencing awaits five of six black teenaged students from Jena High School on charges tied to the beating of a white student in December. A sixth student was charged as a minor.

While no motive for the attack was identified, it took place after three nooses were hung from a tree at the high school. The nooses followed a black student’s decision to sit down in a place where white students typically gathered. The students accused of placing the nooses in that instance were suspended from school.

On Sunday, The Rev. Al Sharpton called for an investigation into the district attorney prosecuting the “Jena Six” in the alleged attack on the white classmate. Sharpton also said he would be in Jena on Sept. 20 for the sentencing of one of the teens.

“We don’t have anything specifically linking this to the ‘Jena Six,’ but we’re not ruling it out,” Dillon said.

C.D. Mote Jr., the University of Maryland president, acknowledged the investigation in an open letter to the campus posted on the school’s Web site.

“The possibility that this act appears intended to bring to mind the horrific crime of lynching, which is such a terrible and tragic part of our nation’s past, is particularly abhorrent,” Mote wrote in the letter.

Mote promised resources to the investigation and swift justice for anyone linked to the incident.

“Any person or persons found guilty of this act will be subject to the university’s full judicial process and any possible criminal actions.”

The Jena 6 Movement

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Hat Tip: by Marisol Bello, USA Today

A grass-roots movement is spreading across black America in support of six black high school students charged with attempted murder for beating a white classmate in the small Louisiana town of Jena.

On black radio, black college campuses and websites from YouTube to Facebook, the young men known as the Jena 6 are being held up as symbols of unequal and unfair treatment of blacks in a case that evokes the Deep South’s Jim Crow era, complete with nooses hanging from a tree.

“People are fed up,” says Esther Iverem, 47, a Washington, D.C., writer who runs a website called Seeingblack.com, which has featured articles about the Jena 6. “It’s another case of young black men railroaded unjustly. We do not want to see this happen to young boys who got involved in a school fight.”

Tenisha Wilkerson, 20, of Chicago, posted a page on Facebook supporting the Jena 6. It has attracted 35,000 members.

“Why is this kind of thing still going on?” she asks.

Symbolism evokes outrage

The events in Jena have caught the attention of national civil rights activists. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III have marched on Jena in protest.

“The case plays to the fears of many blacks,” Sharpton says. “You hear the stories from your parents and grandparents, but you never thought it would happen in 2007. I think what resonates in the black community is that this is so mindful of pre-1960 America.”

For a year, Jena (pronounced JEEN-uh), a poor mining community of 3,000 people, has been embroiled in racial tensions pitting the black community against white school officials and a white prosecutor. It began last August when a black student asked at an assembly if black students could sit under a tree where white students usually sat. The next day, two nooses hung from the tree.

Black parents were outraged by the symbolism, recalling the mob lynchings of black men. They complained to school officials. District superintendent Roy Breithaupt and the school board gave three-day suspensions to the white students who hung the nooses, overruling the recommendation of then-principal Scott Windham that the students be expelled.

Breithaupt and current principal Glen Joiner did not return calls for comment.

In November, an unknown arsonist burned down part of the high school.

Over the next three days, fights erupted between black and white students on and off school grounds. Police arrested a white man for punching a black teen. He pleaded guilty to simple battery.

The skirmishes culminated with a fight in which the six black teens, star players on Jena’s champion football team, were charged as adults with attempted murder. The white student they’re accused of beating, Justin Barker, 17, was knocked unconscious and suffered cuts and bruises. He was treated at an emergency room but not hospitalized.

Mychal Bell, 17, was convicted in May of a reduced charge, aggravated second-degree battery, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Since then, charges against two youths have been reduced.

Reed Walters, the LaSalle Parish prosecutor who brought the charges, did not return calls for comment.

The anger fueled by the case shows no sign of letting up. More than 1,500 people, including California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, rallied at Howard University in Washington on Wednesday. Rallies are planned in Chicago and Boston.

Civil rights groups, including the NAACP and Friends of Justice, plan to rally at the Jena courthouse on Sept. 20, the scheduled date of Bell’s sentencing. Their websites anticipate busloads of marchers from across the country.

The black students’ supporters say the white teens in Jena were not punished as severely as the blacks.

“The question here has always been about fairness and equal justice,” says Tony Brown, a Louisiana radio host. “The bottom line is that there is a two-tiered judicial system. If you’re black, they want to lock you up and throw away the keys. If you’re white, you get a slap on the wrist and get to go home with your parents.”

He points to a case in nearby Bunkie, La., in which three white teens were charged this spring with the minor crime of battery for beating a white teen, who spent three days in the hospital for brain swelling and bleeding.

The case of the Jena 6 has launched “a modern-day civil rights movement,” Brown says.

Tired of the attention

Blacks are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. A 2007 study by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency found that blacks are 17% of the nation’s juvenile population, but 28% of juveniles arrested are black.

“I don’t think you grow up black and think this kind of thing doesn’t happen,” says Maliza Kalenza, 19, a Howard University sophomore from Minneapolis.

Donald Washington, the U.S. attorney for Louisiana’s Western District, says his office investigated the events in Jena but did not find evidence to support a criminal case in the noose hangings. He says black students had sat under the tree where the nooses were hung, too, and he found no evidence that the noose incident led to the fights three months later.

The tree was cut down this summer.

Washington’s office is reviewing the history of Jena school district punishments of black and white students but so far has found nothing inappropriate.

Some people in Jena don’t appreciate the attention.

School board member Billy Fowler says the year’s events have been blown out of proportion. On the other hand, he says, in the unlikely event that another student hung a noose, the incident would be taken more seriously. He also notes that some of the original charges against the six teens, which he says were excessive, were reduced.

“I feel like my town has been raked over unmercifully,” Fowler says. “I’m tired of hearing how racist my town is and it’s just not so. … And the outsiders are not helping any with this.”