Noose Found Near Ground Zero

Professor Madonna Constantine speaks at a protest rally at Teachers College at Columbia University, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007, in New York, one day after a hangman's noose was discovered on her office door at the college.
AP Photo/Diane Bondareff
As police in New York prepared to scour surveillance video from Columbia University for clues on a noose found Tuesday on the door of a black professor, another noose turned up - over a hundred blocks away - the latest in over a dozen such cases nationwide in the past few months.

This one, police say, was hanging from a light pole outside the Church Street post office, near ground zero. Postal workers on the second floor noticed it at about 1 p.m. Thursday, at which point the building management company removed it and police are now investigating.

There is no indication on whether the noose - the murder weapon of choice for lynchings and as a result, a symbol of racial oppression - was a threat aimed at a specific person.

There is also no indication on whether there is any connection to the incident earlier in the week at Columbia University. Police there are considering all possibilities - including a disgruntled student or colleague - in tracking down whoever left a noose on the door of Madonna Constantine, a black professor who teaches a class on racial justice.

Police Thursday began downloading 56 hours of surveillance camera images from Columbia's Teachers College campus, a day after the school turned the tapes over under pressure from investigators. They said the school's refusal to give up the tapes without a court order held up the investigation of an incident that has shaken the Ivy League campus. The college said it was trying to cooperate, but privacy laws required a court order before the tapes could be given to police.

Police also are testing the 4-foot-long piece of twine for DNA evidence and interviewing students and faculty.

So far there are no suspects in the case.

"I'm upset that our community has been exposed to such an unbelievably vile incident," the professor, Madonna Constantine, told hundreds of faculty and students who held a raucous rally Wednesday. She described the incident as a "blatant act of racism" and said it "reeks of cowardice and fear."

Last year in Jena, La., three white students hung nooses from a big oak tree outside the high school, inflaming racial tensions which are on the rise again now, following a jail sentence for a key figure in that case which the Rev. Al Sharpton is calling a "cruel and unusual punishment."

Other nooses have cropped up at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the Hempstead Police Department locker room.

A senior White House official said that the Justice Department has opened its own investigation into the Columbia University incident, reports CBS News' Peter Maer. The FBI, the U.S. Attorneys office and the Civil Rights Division are looking into the case.

Press Secretary Dana Perino says President Bush has been briefed on the recent series of noose incidents.

"He does not see this is what America really stands for," Perino said. "These are hopefully isolated incidents and he understands how hurtful they can be to people."

Civil rights leaders have been pressing the administration to step up federal efforts to prosecute hate crimes, Maer reported.

Morris Dees, founder and chief legal counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been tracking incidents like this for 35 years.

"It's popping up all over the place," Dees told CBS Early Show Co-Anchor Harry Smith. "I think maybe Jena, Louisiana, possibly has caused some copycat situations."

Thousands of demonstrators, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, converged on Jena on Sept. 20 to decry what they called a racist double standard in the justice system. They protested the way six blacks were arrested on attempted murder charges in the beating of a white student, while three whites were suspended but not prosecuted for hanging nooses in a tree in August 2006.

The noose evokes the lynchings of the Jim Crow South and "is a symbol that can be deployed with no ambiguity. People understand exactly what it means," said William Jelani Cobb, a professor of black American history at Spelman College in Atlanta.

He said the Jena incident demonstrated to some racists how offensive the sight of a noose can be: "What Jena did was reintroduce that symbol into the discussion."

As word of the Jena case began circulating, reports of similar incidents arose.

In July, a noose was left in the bag of a black Coast Guard cadet aboard a cutter. A noose was found in August on the office floor of a white officer who had been conducting race-relations training in response to the incident at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.

In early September, a noose was discovered at the University of Maryland in a tree near a building that houses several black campus groups.

On Sept. 29, a noose appeared in the locker room of the Hempstead, N.Y., police department, which recently touted its efforts to recruit minorities.

On Oct. 2, a noose was seen hanging on a utility pole at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama.

Last week, the president of historically black Grambling State University in Louisiana announced he would seek sanctions against five teachers who participated in a lesson on race relations that included placing a noose around the neck of a child at a mostly black, on-campus elementary school.

The Columbia investigation also follows the arrest on Sunday of a white woman on hate-crime charges alleging she hung a noose over a tree limb and threatened a black family living next door in New York City. The two incidents were "the first noose cases in recent memory" in the city, said Deputy Inspector Michael Osgood, commander of the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force.