Archived: FBI Investigates Racially Charged Banana, Noose Incident at American University

Taylor Dumpson/American University

The FBI is investigating racist displays on the campus of American University in Washington, D.C. The agency said on Wednesday that a suspect hung bananas from nooses on the campus after Taylor Dumpson, the university’s first Black female student government president, took office.

Quinn Dunlea, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, first spotted the bananas strung up at various sites across campus and reported the findings to public safety, according to the campus newspaper. Lindsay Godwin, a spokeswoman for the agency’s Washington office, said university police asked the FBI to join the probe.

Messages were written on bananas such as “AKA free,” apparently referring to the sorority of which Dumpson is a member. Founded in 1908, AKA became the country’s first Greek-letter organization established by Black college women.

Photo by Quinn Dunlea

“Harambe Bait” was also written on bananas. Harambe is the name of the gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2016. Alt-right Twitter trolls led by Milo Yiannopoulos sent a barrage of racist tweets comparing “Saturday Night Live” comedian Leslie Jones to Harambe last year.

Racists have long comparedBlacks to monkeys, whichstereotypicallyare said to consume bananas. And nooses are indicative of the lynching of African Americans that took place in the U.S.

In her first letter to the American University student body, Dumpson addressed the racist incident:

“It is disheartening and immensely frustrating that we are still dealing with this issue after recent conversations, dialogues, and town halls surrounding race relations on campus.

“But this is exactly why we need to do more than just have conversations but move in a direction towards more tangible solutions to prevent incidents like these from occurring in the future.

“As the first Black woman AUSG president, I implore all of us to unite in solidarity with those impacted by this situation and we must remember that ‘if there is no struggle, there is no progress’ Frederick Douglass.”

Dumpson also noted that she hoped her first letter to the community would have instead discussed “accountability, transparency, accessibility, and inclusivity.”

Campus police have released two surveillance videos to assist in suspect identification.

They tweeted a bulletin on Tuesday offering a $1,000 reward for information leading up to positive suspect identification:

“This individual is a person of interest in a racially motivated hate crime targeting Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. (AKA) sorority, occurring on May 1, 2017 between 3:45 a.m. and 4:10 a.m.

“The subject hung bananas with nooses at various locations on campus. The subject was wearing a black long sleeve shirt and black pants. They may have worn a hat or mask.

“The subject travelled from the area of the Quad to the Southside Shuttle Stop. They may have entered a white/silver sedan near Rockwood Parkway.”

American University has an undergraduate population of approximately 7,094 students, and students are 58 percent white, 6 percent Black, 11 percent Latino, 7 percent Asian and less than 1 percent American Indian.

In a statement released Monday, Neil Kerwin, president of the university, referred to the displays on campus as “a crude and racially insensitive act of bigotry.”

“We strongly condemn what happened; will do all that we can to find those responsible; and ask that anyone who may know of those involved to please step forward and contact Public Safety,” Kerwin said.

“Racially charged acts of bigotry are done to instill fear and inflict pain in our community especially at stressful times, such as at the end of the term.

“I regret this happened, apologize to everyone offended, and state emphatically that this incident does not reflect what American University truly is.”

This reportedly isn’t the first incident on campus involving the symbolism of bananas. In September, a Black woman reported that a banana was thrown at her through her dorm room door, and another Black student on the same floor said she found a rotten banana outside her door.

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