On September 7 , 2007 a noose was found hanging from a tree outside the Nyumburu Cultural Center at the Universtiy of Maryland. This incident occurred only two days after a rally for the Jena 6 (a case that also involves the hanging of nooses) at nearby Howard University in Washington, DC that attracted between 1500 and 2000 people. University of Maryland officials have been quick to comment on the noose incident at the center and student organizations led by the campus Black Student Union have mobilized thousands of students and community members against racism. What follows is an exchange with one of the many organizers of the anti-racism campaign.
Ron: First, can you tell me about the incident and how it was discovered?
Rayyan: On September 7 , a noose was found hanging on a tree outside the Nyumburu Cultural Center at the University of Maryland. There is speculation that the noose had remained on the tree for nearly a week before it was finally reported to the police by an unknown person. On Friday, the police department issued a statement characterizing it as a hate crime, and indicating that they were looking into the matter.
Ron: What is your role at the University of Maryland? How long have you attended the university?
Rayyan: I have attended the University of Maryland as an undergraduate for the last two years (this is my third year on campus). I am currently a Criminology and Criminal Justice major, although when I am not studying, I play a role in organizing as an activist on campus. I am a member of the International Socialist Organization (and have been since my freshman year). The ISO often unites with other student groups (such as the Latino Student Union and the Muslim Students Association) to organize around issues of social justice (among them the issue of immigrants rights, defending Arabs/Muslims from racism, and organizing against the war). As an activist, my primary goal is to help rebuild an organized Left on the campus and around the country that can stand against the social and economic issues that face working people today.
Ron:What is the Nyumburu Cultural Center? Who has their offices there and what is its history?
Rayyan: Nyumburu is a multicultural center that is now in its 28th year. The word “Nyumburu” comes from a Swahili word meaning “freedom house,” and the primary aim of the center is to provide a safe haven for community members of all different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. By providing a place for intellectual dialogue, the Center is able to fight against racist violence and ethnic discrimination.
Ron:Were you surprised at this incident? Had there been any indication in recent years that the apparent sentiment that the noose symbolizes exists on campus or in College Park?
Rayyan: Racial tensions have been boiling up on campus for the past few years now. In 2005 there was an incident of police brutality towards people of color on campus after police officers broke up a party in a university residential complex. Community Roots, an activist group on campus, along with other student organizations initiated a rally in response to brutalitywhich drew out over 150 people . The recent incident, however, is a little different in character in that it was not another episode of police using racism as a weapon–this recent crime was most probably committed by a member of the University community.
Maryland often prides itself on graduating more African Americans than any top twenty public university, but it can’t just be a statistic. The university has to embody those principles and address issues of racism in an open manner.
Ron: What has been the ad hoc response of the students? The administration? Faculty and staff?
Rayyan:The President of the University, President Mote, released a statement to the campus community on September 8–excerpts are pasted below:
To Members of the University Community:
The University of Maryland is proud of its great diversity and deeply committed to the right of all members of our family to work and live in an environment in which they feel safe, and respected. The recent report of a hate crime, which is now under investigation by our Department of Public Safety, is of great concern. 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.
The University of Maryland will not tolerate discrimination, harassment or acts of hate. All members of our community should be aware that incidents that run counter to our inclusiveness should be reported to one of the offices listed at the end of this letter.
I know that I speak for the entire University of Maryland community in saying that we are dismayed at this possible hate crime. We know that the successful investigation of this act and the apprehension of those responsible will be greatly assisted by members of the campus community who come forward with information.
I thank the campus community for standing in unity against the spirit and execution of such acts.
C. D. Mote, Jr.
The students response has been incredible. The Black Student Union has played an amazing leadership role in organizing the campus. As a campus community, we cannot give them enough credit for their response to this incident. Yesterday, the BSU held a town hall meeting at which over 200 students attended (it was held right in Nyumburu). There were people of all genders, races, and backgrounds attending in solidarity with the people of color on the campus in a united fight against racism.
Ron: As you know, there was another racial attack regarding a noose recently in Jena, Louisiana. What do these occurrences represent to you? Is this type of racism coming back or do you consider them to be harmful but isolated incidents?
Rayyan: It is not a coincidence that two days after a successful “Justice for the Jena 6” solidarity rally at Howard University a noose was found hanging at the University of Maryland. The reality is that despite the massive gains made by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, racism is very much alive today. In addition, there is a polarization in society–the people who support such bigotry are on the defensive because those of us who are anti-racists have made it clear that we will not tolerate racist injustice in any form. That means that when they come out with their nooses (in Jena, and in CP), we need to make it absolutely clear that they are not welcome. We need to make sure that these racists are no longer comfortable in expressing such violent behavior.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com