The burning of crosses and the displaying of nooses -- exactly like the toilet paper noose found in the Sullivan Shops last November -- may be felonies after the N.C. Legislature looks at the possibility of changing the law.
Vice Provost for Diversity and African American Affairs Jose Picart said the possibility of such crimes becoming felonies makes a strong statement about how North Carolina feels about what he called "intimidation crimes."
"I don't know if the law will change somebody's behavior, but it's one way of society and the people of North Carolina saying we don't condone this," he said.
The N.C. Senate was the first group to look at the bill, introduced by Democratic Senator Doug Berger. On July 2 only three senators out of 50 voted against the bill, which will be discussed by the state house today.
James Hankins, senior in political science, echoed Picart's sentiments about the sensitive issue and said he is glad to see the legislature making this issue important.
"With all of North Carolina's racial problems in the past, it's about time our legislature is taking a proactive approach on this and trying to make these crimes a felony," he said.
Following the passage of the bill in the Senate, the next step comes today in a house judiciary committee meeting. Should the full house approve the bill it will then be sent to Gov. Easley for approval.
Capt. Jon Barnwell of Campus Police said if the bill was to be approved and such crimes were to be made felonies, the University would handle such instances the same way it did in November's noose display case.
"As far as procedure, it would probably go about the same," he said of the possibility of any future investigations. "We will investigate any such incident to the fullest extent and take the appropriate action. As a University we have zero tolerance on that type of activity."
Picart said the act of burning a cross or displaying a noose are crimes which people commit for no other reason, in his opinion, than to intimidate certain groups on campus or off.
"In the black community people would say that these [crimes] have the effect of intimidating," he said. "I can't think of any other reason for burning a cross or displaying a noose."
Goeffrey Hunter, senior in political science and the Vice Chair of the Student Diversity Advisory Council, said he believes people will still commit hate crimes despite legislation being discussed or passed.
"It's good that the [legislature] is looking deeper into hate crimes and trying to pass legislation to show that these things are serious," he said. "But even new legislation won't change the way people are, there will still be people who want to commit hate crimes."
Both Picart and Hunter said they feel the best solution to solving the problem of hate crimes is to have open discussion between groups, something they both said will take place on campus in the future.
"We have diversity education programs, diversity dialogue programs and diversity celebration programs that are intended to educate students, faculty and staff," Picart said. "The belief is that through education we will reduce prejudice and racism."
Hunter agreed, and said SDAC has plans for open discussion about hate crimes and other diversity issues during the fall semester.
"We will be able to continue discussion when school starts back," he said. "The Student Diversity Advisory Council is going to have a diversity symposium in the fall and hate crimes will be a topic. It needs to more of a dialogue between people rather than just legislation."