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Student who hung rope says judgment unfair

A Magnolia resident, speaking on the condition of anonymity Tuesday night, said that he and a friend are responsible for hanging up a swing in the courtyards of the apartment complex.

University Police discovered a rope with what appeared to be a noose fashioned to the end of it on Jan. 30.

News of the discovery caused an outcry on campus, especially among black students, many of whom have been vocal in recent days about fear for personal safety following the incident.

The student said he and his friend, who is black, tied the rope to the limb of the tree and fastened a piece of plywood with holes in it to the bottom of the rope.

But on Jan. 25, when a Magnolia resident assistant told them the swing was unsafe, they had to take it down.

At that point, the student said he and his friend cut the rope off the tree and left it on the ground. Two days later, the rope was hanging from the limb again. He is not sure who put it back up.

“I think someone tied another loop,” he said.

Since the incident, the two men have met with police on three occasions, he said. And they have also been targeted by other residents who are holding them responsible for what they interpret as an act of racial malice.

“They just came up to us and just started asking if we had problems (with black people), and why are we putting up nooses and stuff,” he said. “And we just told them we didn’t do it.”

In addition, the student said he attended the meeting last night where about 80 students weighed in on the incident.

Trevor Purcell, chairman of Africana Studies at USF, was also at the meeting. He said it is important that students not jump to conclusions.

“My plea is for people to take both sides very seriously,” Purcell said. “I would not discard what these two young men say.”

He added, though, that he understands why some students might be reluctant to believe that a rope in a tree may simply just be a remnant from a swing. A noose, which to many symbolizes public hangings of blacks in Civil-War-era America, carries a lot of weight.

“People might be afraid to speak to it because — look, in the first place, a noose is a serious and sensitive symbol,” Purcell said. “If someone were to devalue it, than you leave the impression with black students that people don’t take them seriously.”

Aside from the claims that the rope originated as a swing, Purcell, after reviewing police photographs of it, said the way the loop was fashioned does not fit the typical description of a “hangman’s noose.”

“A noose intended to function as a noose has to be a slipknot, and this doesn’t look like a slipknot,” Purcell said. “But the person who made it could have intended for it to be a noose but didn’t know how to make slipknot.”

Another issue that must be considered is the diameter of the loop, which, he said, appears to be too small for a head to fit through. In addition, he said that a hangman’s noose typically has 13 to 14 rings above the knot. The one recovered by police appears only to have one.

Gode Davis, a Rhode Island filmmaker who is in the process of making a documentary on lynchings in the United States, said examples of what he terms “pseudo-lynchings” are almost commonplace.

That the noose doesn’t resemble a traditional hangman’s noose doesn’t dissuade him from believing the act was not racially motivated because, “A lot of people who make a hangman’s noose to emulate a lynching may not know what they’re doing.”

Several incidents of pseudo-lynchings have popped up in the workplace, most recently at a fast food restaurant in Largo. These events, and the one at USF, have garnered much media coverage, which he says covers up a bigger problem that isn’t covered in the media: Lynchings, though extremely rare, still take place in the United States. Several of one hundred “mysterious deaths” that have occurred during the past 23 years could be attributed to lynching, according to the research for the film, which he is producing for PBS.

Back at USF, Black Student Union president Esque Dollar, who has said in recent days the administration should severely punish those responsible for hanging the rope, said he is not so much concerned over the origins of it anymore.

“I don’t want the focus to be on this rope. (The problem) is bigger than a rope hanging on a tree,” he said. “Regardless of whether this is a noose or not, the majority of the minority students at this university do not feel comfortable.”

He said other race-related issues at USF need to be addressed. He pointed to poor retention rates of black students and a lack of visible, successful black USF graduates in the community.

“It seems like we got so caught up in being Research I and being in the Big East that we forget that part of being a college student is the college experience,” he said. “If students aren’t leaving here with good feelings, there’s no donating when I become alumni; that only happens when you leave the university with a positive feeling in your heart.”