Columbia U. Hate Crime Investigation Widens

Police are investigating two other possible hate crimes in New York.


Oct. 12, 2007 — -- New York police were investigating several possible hate crimes Friday as they began reviewing dozens of hours of surveillance camera images they hope will help them find the person who hung a noose on a black Columbia University professor's office door.

Columbia University gave the security tapes to police Thursday afternoon after initially refusing to hand them over, New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne told ABC News.

The NYPD, which is investigating the incident at Teachers College as a possible hate crime, is also testing the noose for DNA evidence. The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the incident and the New York attorney general's office is looking into the case.

Police were also investigating two other possible hate crimes Friday, including another one at Columbia. A drawing of a yarmulke-wearing man and a swastika was found on a bathroom stall door at the Ivy League school Thursday, police said. Investigators said there was no reason to believe the two incidents were linked.

Also on Thursday, post office workers discovered a noose hanging from a light pole outside a post office in downtown Manhattan near ground zero, Al Weissman of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service told ABC News.

Weissman said postal workers had not received any threats and it was not clear if the noose was targeted at someone in particular.

Browne said Columbia turned over the security tapes in the noose incident Thursday after news reports emerged that the university had rebuffed police requests for the tapes.

A university spokeswoman said in a statement on Thursday, "The news reports are untrue. We are giving the tapes to the police." Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman said in a statement that the school had asked police to get a court order out of concern for students' privacy.

"There was no desire to hinder the investigation -- far from it," she said. On Wednesday, Furhman called the noose "an abhorrent act that has no place in this great institution."

The noose was first discovered hanging from the office door of professor Madonna Constantine Tuesday morning by one of Constantine's colleagues.

Constantine, a professor of psychology and education who specializes in issues of race and multiculturalism, told a crowd of more than 100 supporters at a rally Wednesday that the noose was a "blatant act of racism." Constantine is the director of the Cultural Winter Roundtable in psychology and education at Teachers College. She has written broadly on themes of multiculturalism, racism and ethnicity, according to a list of publications on her online faculty bio. Students said Constantine teaches a class on racial justice and described her as well-respected among the faculty and student body.

"Hanging a noose on my door reeks of cowardice and fear on many, many levels," she said, prompting cheers and applause from the crowd assembled outside the college's main entrance. "I would like the perpetrator to know I will not be silenced."

"It felt very personal and very degrading," Constantine told ABC's "Good Morning America."

Professor Derald Wing Sue, one of the first people to discover the noose, told ABC News that Constantine's immediate concern after finding the noose was "the possible negative impact it would have on students of color and the staff."

"That's very characteristic of her," he said.

Police have not named a suspect, but The Associated Press reported that police were also investigating, among other possibilities, whether the noose may have been placed by an angry student or another faculty member.

Earlier this year, Constantine filed a lawsuit for defamation and slander against another professor at the college, according to court records. The lawsuit, which asks for more than $100,000, does not explain the nature of the dispute and Constantine's lawyer declined to comment.

The other professor, Suniya Luthar, who is not considered a suspect, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

"I think this is an absolutely deplorable, ugly, horrendous incident and I sincerely hope the authorities will get to the bottom of it as soon as possible," she told ABC News, referring to the noose.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Deputy Inspector Michael Osgood, commander of the New York Police Department's Hate Crimes Task Force, said, "Right now we have no suspects, but we will go down all investigative pathways." He ruled out any possibility that professor Constantine had placed the noose on the door herself.

"Our victim is a victim," he said.

Columbia students and professors told ABC News that they were shocked to hear of the apparently racist act at one of the nation's most well-regarded graduate education schools known for its emphasis on multiculturalism.

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger also addressed the incident in a written statement.

"This is an assault on African-Americans, and therefore is an assault on every one of us," Bollinger said in the statement.

On Wednesday afternoon students walked out of class and congregated in front of the entrance to the college, holding signs that read "Not On Our Campus" and chanting, "No more nooses." The protests drew about 200 people, including students from other universities around the city, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and State Sen. Bill Perkins.

The suspected hate crime comes less than two weeks after a highly controversial appearance at Columbia by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the discovery of racist and Islamophobic graffiti at Columbia's School for International and Public Affairs.

The discovery of the noose, a symbol of black lynchings in the South, sparked sadness and anger across the campus.

"What we expect to see down South … has come up," Perkins said. "The racism we saw in Jena, we now see in New York," he said, referring to recent events in Jena, La., where several nooses were hung from a tree at a local high school

But many faculty and students said they never expected to see similar incidents in New York.

"This is horrific. I'm in complete shock," said Amy Stuart Wells, a Teachers College professor, who is on sabbatical in California. "People come to Teachers College to make the world a better place. I never expected something like this to happen."

Judy Chadourne, a vice president at the college, told ABC News, "I'm absolutely stunned that something like this would happen here."

The Columbia incident is the latest in a spate of racial episodes following the hanging of several nooses from a tree on a high school campus in Jena, La., about a year ago. In that highly publicized case, six black students, who came to be known as the Jena 6 were charged in the beating of a white student. The severity of the charges against them prompted a 20,000-person demonstration in the small Louisiana town in September.

Also last month, a noose was found hanging outside a black cultural studies building on the University of Maryland campus in College Park, Md. The president of Grambling State University said last week that he would seek sanctions against teachers at a university-run elementary school who were photographed re-enacting hangings in a lesson tied to the ongoing Jena 6 controversy.

At a secondary school of Gallaudet University, a college for deaf students in Washington, seven students -- six white and one black -- assaulted a black student and scrawled "KKK" and swastikas all over his body with a marker. The head of the U.S. Coast Guard is investigating a July incident at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut in which two small nooses were found inside the sea bag of a black cadet aboard a tall ship.

Valerie Camille Jones, a student at Teachers College, said the noose was a "wake up call."

"This is a manifestation of what's happening in society," she said. "I felt like I was in a bubble. And now my bubble has burst."

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