Officials investigate possible UM hate crime

The Baltimore Sun

University of Maryland police are investigating a report of a noose in a tree near a cultural center housing several African-American student organizations as a possible hate crime, campus officials said last night.

"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," wrote UM President C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr. in a letter e-mailed to the campus community Saturday and posted on the school's Web site.

Students and staff saw the noose in a tree next to the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, between that building and the Nyumburu Cultural Center, said police spokesman Paul Dillon. Witnesses stated that they saw it as early as Thursday, but it had been removed by the time campus police arrived after receiving a report at 4:15 p.m. Friday, he said.

The Nyumburu Cultural Center's mission is to foster "black social, cultural and intellectual interaction," according to the center's Web site.

The center, which is more than 30 years old, houses student groups such as the Black Explosion, an African-American student newspaper, and the Maryland Gospel Choir, and also hosts workshops, seminars and lectures, said Ronald Zeigler, the center's director. Academic courses on creative writing, jazz and gospel music are also taught there, he said.

The director said students, faculty and staff reacted with dismay to the incident. He called it deplorable.

"People are disturbed by it, but the police reaction has been very prompt," Zeigler said. "Keeping a lid between emotions of people on campus - that's the thing to do now."

Dillon said police have no suspects but are considering all possibilities - including that it could have been prompted by a ruling Tuesday in a court case involving a group known as the "Jena 6."

A year ago, several white students in Jena, La., were suspended after they hung nooses from a schoolyard tree. School administrators dismissed it as a prank, according to news reports. In December, six black teenagers were charged with attempted second-degree murder in the beating of a white classmate after he had taunted them, according to news reports.

Mote, who was in China last week, helped craft the statement late Saturday while driving back from BWI Marshall Airport, UM spokesman Millree Williams said yesterday.

"We're just committed to finding out what happened on our own campus and bringing that person or groups of persons to light," said Williams.

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