COLLEGE PARK – Hundreds of students and faculty members rallied Wednesday at the University of Maryland College Park to denounce “particularly repellent” hate mail that was sent to black leaders and organizations on campus this week.
“Yesterday I was reminded once again that ignorance is a disease that festers even at an institution of higher education,” said Student Government Association President Juliana Njoku, a black student who received one of the letters.
The letters, which made repeated racial slurs and threatened to “destroy” it recipients, were also received Tuesday by the Black Student Union and by the Department of African-American Studies.
Campus police said they have no leads in the case, the sixth incident of a racially motivated intimidating letter that has been recorded at College Park since September 1998. That number does not include other hate crimes, such as verbal intimidation or malicious destruction of property.
Police have called in the Justice Department and the FBI to assist in the investigation of the incident, and a reward fund of more than $4,000 has been established for information leading to a conviction in the case.
“We must do everything we can to lighten the burden of this crime,” said campus President Clayton Mote Jr., who started the reward fund Tuesday with $1,000 of his own money. “We need to nab these culprits and punish them to the maximum extent allowed under the law.”
Donations from groups on and off campus had boosted the reward fund to $4,005 by Wednesday afternoon.
Mote, who called Wednesday’s rally so the campus could “loudly denounce hatred, threats and other cowardly acts,” was greeted with applause and cheers from the hundreds who gathered outside the student union. Njoku said that mood reflected the fact that the letter-writer had awakened “a sleeping campus.”
“When you tolerate actions such as this, you’re only allowing the author to do it again,” she said. “If anybody allows these actions to hinder them, you’ve only let this fool win.”
Campus police refused to discuss the letters except to say “that we have the letters themselves. We are not divulging any other information,” said Lt. Paul Dillon.
Police did say they are working to increase protection for the recipients of the letters. Cpl. Mary Brock said the victims will be provided with cell phones equipped with a 911 button in case they find themselves in “strange situations.”
“The victims were targeted because they are campus leaders but all of us are targeted as well, as a campus. We cannot let this succeed,” Mote said.
A task force of campus police, Maryland State Police, FBI and Justice Department officials was scheduled to meet behind closed doors Thursday to discuss the investigation.