The Amherst College Police Department announced on Monday, Sept. 11 that two juveniles unaffiliated with the college were responsible for tying a rope into a noose on Pratt Football Field. The discovery of the noose on Sept. 5 touched off a week of student action and administrative communication condemning the incident.
The college’s police chief, John Carter, notified the college community of the incident in an email on Sept. 7. The noose had been shaped from a rope used for athletic training.
In emails to the community, Carter and President Biddy Martin said that no more information about the responsible parties will be released, as Massachusetts privacy laws protect their identities. Carter added that reports have been submitted to the district attorney’s office for review.
Currently, Martin said, the two juveniles have been issued no-trespass orders and are barred from entering campus.
Nooses symbolize lynchings, a method of targeting and killing non-white people, particularly black Americans, used from the 19th century until as late as 1981. The New York Times reported that recently, nooses have been appearing more frequently, including at several campuses across the nation, in the National Museum of African American History and at the United States Mint in Philadelphia.
News of the noose stirred the campus, and members of the student body began to organize in protest of the racist symbol shortly after the police department announced the discovery of the noose, while the investigation to identify the perpetrators was still ongoing.
A student-led demonstration took place on Valentine Quad at 12:45 p.m. on Tuesday. The majority of participants arrived dressed in black clothing, and the event’s leaders organized participants into a large circle.
Irisdelia Garcia ’18 opened the event and led participants in chanting the phrase “What do we need?”, which was followed by individuals yelling out words such as “love,” “change,” “security” and “respect.” Rojas Oliva ’19 announced that the conversation regarding racialized violence would continue in a meeting next Wednesday in the Octagon at 9:30 p.m. Garcia condemned racialized violence, then called for a moment of silence for those affected by recent events.
Lindsay Turner ’18, senior chair of the BSU and one of the main organizers of the demonstration, said in a post-event interview that the event was led by the Black Student Union (BSU), an affinity group for black students, and the Direct Action Coordinating Committee (DACC), a student group focused on political mobilization on campus.
The event had originally been planned as a protest on the First-Year Quad. Upon learning that the perpetrators were not affiliated with the college, Turner said, organizers changed it to be “more of a demonstration and an affirmation that we’re here and we’re not going to tolerate this.”
Specifically, Turner said, they wanted “to send a message to the first years who’ve just gotten on campus and already exposed to this kind of ignorant BS.”
Turner added that the size of the demonstration exceeded her expectations. “I’m really inspired by this, just because of the huge turnout that we did have that shows me that people are not being as apathetic and are starting to care, because it was not just people of color out here,” Turner said. “Other people were clearly concerned that the anti-black violence had occurred.”
Josh Cavé ’18, who attended the demonstration, said he felt it was an “appropriate and measured response to the rising tensions on campus” which showed that “despite what’s going on in our country and what might happen on our campus, there’s always people who are looking out for each other.”
Another attendee, Konso Mbakire ’18, expressed her surprise that the noose was found in the first place. “This is a liberal campus in a liberal town … If this is what black students go through here, I’m just imagining what they go through on other campuses,” she said. “How do we survive?”
Posters depicting a raised fist with the slogan “This is our campus, not the Klan’s” were posted across campus on the same day that Carter emailed the college community. In a Facebook post, DACC claimed responsibility for the posters.
President Biddy Martin wrote a statement, emailed to students, faculty and staff on Sunday, in which she strongly denounced the act. “[Nooses] are unmistakably racist symbols of hate … It is appalling that one was tied and left on the ground in a visible part of our campus,” she wrote. Martin also urged students to condemn it and to learn more about the history of racism and other forms of bias in the U.S.
At a community meeting held by members of the college administration on Sunday in the Powerhouse, Martin spoke against the incident with even stronger language. “An action of this sort, to tie a noose and put it … where it’s visible, is an act of overt bigotry,” she said. “I want the police to find that person and I want that person to be punished for it.”
In the future, Turner said, “I would like to see more of the campus get engaged.” Allies were present, she said, but “let’s try to get to the other people who might not necessarily think this directly impacts them.”
Shawna Chen ’20 contributed reporting for this article.
Update: A previous version of this article reported that Huey Hewitt ’19 was one of the leaders of DACC. According to Hewitt, he is not a leader of DACC and the organization has no formal leadership structure. This page was updated to reflect the change on Sept. 13 at 9:34 p.m.