COLLEGE PARK -- Black student leaders at the University of Maryland have called for a communitywide "speak-out" today to encourage people to express outrage about a noose discovered hanging from a tree last week on the College Park campus.
At a meeting yesterday between student leaders and senior administration officials, UM police said they believed the small noose had been hanging for about two weeks before it was reported to them. Authorities are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime because of the rope's proximity to a cultural center used mainly by African-American campus organizations.
"The speak-out will occur on Tuesday, Sept. 11, because this is terrorism," said Shawna Murray, a vice president of the black student union. "We're a collective and we've organized and we're prepared to say that as a Terp community, we're not going to stand for this."
To many people -- particularly on a formerly segregated campus like College Park -- a dangling noose evokes memories of lynching. African-Americans make up about 13 percent of UM undergraduates and 7 percent of graduate students.
The speak-out event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in front of the McKeldin Library on the sprawling Prince George's County campus.
University police spokesman Paul Dillon said authorities were "perplexed" about why the noose apparently dangled in plain view for two weeks without being reported or removed, but suggested it might simply have gone unnoticed.
According to a police analysis of a photo, the rope was about 3 feet long, with a noose about 2 inches to 3 inches in diameter. Before it was cut down and destroyed by UM maintenance workers Friday, the rope hung about 15 feet above the ground in a walkway between the student union and the Nyumburu Cultural Center, which houses the black faculty association and a black newspaper.
The assistant editor of the Black Explosion newspaper, who reported the noose to police Friday, said yesterday that it appeared even smaller in person than it did in a photo published this week in the Diamondback student newspaper.
"Whoever tied it wasn't a great noose-maker, let's put it that way," said Ajan Brown, 21, a sophomore journalism major from Seattle. Still, Brown said it resembled a lynching noose "enough to be offensive to me."
Anne Carswell, an administrator in the Nyumburu center, said she saw the noose hanging Thursday, but hesitated to notify authorities out of fear of overreacting. "I didn't feel comfortable calling the police department, because I didn't want them to think I was blowing something up."
Asha-Lateef Dobbs, president of UM's black graduate student association, said that kind of reaction suggests a worrying trend on campus.
"That's something we need to address," she said. "What is the culture here? What is the climate here that didn't make whomever saw it feel like they could just pick up the phone and say, 'You know what? There's a noose hanging outside of the [student] union'?"
Despite such concerns, Dobbs and other student leaders praised the administration's quick condemnation of the noose over the weekend, and the police department's immediate characterization of it as a suspected hate crime.
Police do not have any suspects, Dillon said. He made an appeal to students for help in identifying the culprit. "One of the keys to solving this crime is finding out why this noose was placed in the tree," he said.
The last major hate crime investigated at UM was in 1999, when several black officials and student leaders received racist threats. No one was charged in those crimes, Dillon said.