No nooses at University of Delaware, police say, but anxiety persists

The discovery of what looked like nooses hanging from a tree at the University of Delaware in Newark stirred outrage and anxiety this week, even after police ruled out a hate crime.

On Tuesday, a student reported three nooses hanging from a tree on a green space in the middle of the campus. On Wednesday, police said they determined the ropes were not nooses but “remnants of paper lanterns from an event previously held on The Green.”

“We received several reports from students who said they had seen the materials hanging in the tree,” university police Chief Patrick Ogden said. “I am confident that we have determined the origin of these items.”

Still, the news did not assuage the consternation of some students.

“I seriously doubt that that was left over from a ‘paper lantern event.’ How did no one notice that until last night @UDelaware?” one Twitter user said.

Others said photos of the same spot from days ago show nothing hanging from the tree.

The incident, even if it was not intentional, left students shaken.

In a statement after the discovery but before the police investigation’s conclusion, university acting President Nancy M. Targett called the ropes “hateful acts.”

“Such cowardly and reprehensible acts are clearly designed to intimidate and frighten, and they are unacceptable on our campus,” Targett wrote.

The university president followed up hours later with a second statement, sharing the police findings.

“At the same time, the sensitivity of our campus to this potential issue clearly indicates a need for continuing dialog within our community,” Targett said.

She encouraged students to gather Wednesday afternoon at The Green for a discussion.

Despite the police findings, the concerns at the University of Delaware reflect ongoing racial tensions in the country. American college campuses have not been spared from racist incidents or discussions over how to address them.

Earlier this year, a Duke University student admitted to hanging a noose made of rope from a tree near a student union.

A month before, a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma had its charter removed after a video surfaced showing members using the N-word and referring to lynching in a chant. Two students were expelled.

In February 2014, a noose was hung around the neck of a statue of a famous civil rights figure at the University of Mississippi.

With such racist incidents documented on other campuses, it’s understandable that the ropes hanging at the University of Delaware would be scrutinized.


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Is a new crime wave on the horizon?

After decades of a downward trend in crime, residents in some large U.S. cities wonder if a reversal is coming.

If you live in Baltimore, you know that May, with 43 homicides, was the deadliest month since 1972. Or if you are a Houstonian, you’ve probably heard that murders were up 45% through April compared to the same period in 2014.

The latest statistics in Milwaukee show a 103% spike in murders year-to-date compared with a year ago.

The spike in killings in these major cities would be troubling in itself at any time, but it is especially troubling now, when policing practices, race and social policies are regularly in the news.

The video of a gunman brazenly opening fire on another man in the Bronx in May, or another gunman caught on camera firing across the street at someone in Harlem in April, spread so swiftly online that it is fair to ask if a crime wave is on the horizon.

A review of murder statistics in major U.S. cities so far this year shows an unclear picture.

While Baltimore and Houston appear to be experiencing a crime wave, comparable cities like Dallas and Los Angeles are trending in the opposite direction.

In short, it is too early to draw conclusions of a shift in the trend for violent crime.

Anecdotal evidence

How telling is Baltimore’s deadly month of May?

Of the 119 homicides recorded in Baltimore this year, more than one-third happened in May.

As the Baltimore Sun put it in an editorial, “We don’t think it is at all unreasonable to start asking questions about leadership in a city that, over the last month, was less safe by some measures than it has been at any point in recorded history.”

Speaking at an event remembering a toddler who was killed by a stray bullet last year, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said last month that it is a “very, very painful time in our city.”

On the other extreme is Los Angeles. Because of its large population, the city notches one of the nation’s highest numbers of murders, but the trend has been shrinking violent crime.

CNN requested murder statistics for 2015 from a number of large U.S. cities. Some departments cooperated right away, while others asked for more time or formal open records requests. Among the departments that released statistics, the numbers reflected different periods. Some cities had murder statistics through May, others just through April.

For the cities where crime does appear to be trending upward, how can one know if it is a blip or a historic reversal?

“It’s a little bit like the stock market. These statistics go up and down,” said Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. “It’s like asking why did the stock market go up 75 points today.”

But numbers have the power to sway, and many of these figures are being used already to bolster arguments for stronger police enforcement or a reformed police presence.

Explaining the downward trend

As policing has changed over the years, the question of what the nationwide decreases in violent crime means has been debated.

There is general agreement that larger police departments — and more officers in the streets — has had a positive effect on lowering crime, Pollack said.

The quality of policing has also improved over the past 20 years and the departments are better managed, he said.

Other factors are harder to quantify.

The end of the crack epidemic is believed to have contributed to the decrease in violent crime, as have other reasons ranging from the legalization of abortion to changes in the illegal drug market.

This year “may not be shaping up to be a terrific year in many cities, and it may be part of a larger pattern, but we really don’t know that,” Pollack said.

So what’s the debate right now?

One obvious difference between last year and this year is the tensions between police officers and certain communities.

The high-profile instances of police officers killing unarmed black men stirred outrage and protests.

There is an understanding that somehow things have changed — or must change — in a post-Michael Brown, post-Freddie Gray, post-Eric Garner America.

The debate on whether police reform is needed or whether more aggressive policing is necessary is often political. The early 2015 murder statistics are providing evidence for both sides.

“If there’s a national mood that starts to see police as the bad guys, the police as the enemy responsible for these problems, it makes it a hell of a lot harder to police,” said Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer and professor of policing. “One way that cops deal with that is that they just stop policing those people.”

A former New York Police Department officer, Bill Stanton, agreed that an uptick in crime can be linked to police being less assertive.

“When you take away police pride and you take away giving them the benefit of the doubt … and you’re going to call them racist and you’re going to prosecute them for doing nothing wrong,” Stanton said, “then what happens is they’re going to roll back. They’re not going to go that extra mile.”

CNN Political Analyst Van Jones said tying the protests over the deaths of unarmed black men to increases in crime is disingenuous.

“Police unions are trying to link any crime to First Amendment protests and cherry-picking data,” he told CNN’s Erin Burnett.

“This is all part of an attempt to tell black people that if we exercise our First Amendment rights, we are somehow now responsible for people who engage in crime,” he said. “Why should the black community have to choose between police abuse and police neglect? That’s a false choice.”

The fundamentals

The bottom line, statisticians say, is that there is not enough data to conclude if a new crime wave is upon us, or if there is, what factors are behind it.

Pollack suggested that looking at the available data through a political lens can distract from a focus on the fundamentals.

Nearly without exception, the protests over the killings of unarmed black men have been examples of police misconduct or mistakes, Pollack said.

All communities need and want good policing, and the focus should be on factors that are known to have lowered crime, he said.

Things like community policing and addressing other social issues in the communities have worked, he said.

“Public safety is a joint product of the police and the community, and each side has to trust each other, and when that trust breaks down, it’s very hard for police to do its job and for the community to do do its part as well,” he said.

But with the current political climate, don’t be surprised if crime statistics become part of the discussion on race and policing.

“The premise of the Black Lives Matter movement, that the police are the biggest threat facing young black males today, is simply false, and the animosity that’s directed to police on the streets today is having an effect,” Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “I’ve heard from many officers that they are reluctant to engage in actions that could be misinterpreted on cellphone cameras.”

The accusation from the other side is that there is an intentional effort to undermine the political support black protesters have garnered.

“Conflation of the protests with a rise in crime and criminality itself kind of defames what the protests are about,” New York Times columnist Charles Blow told Cuomo.

CDC director raises Ebola alarm

— The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is much worse than official figures show, and other countries are unintentionally making it harder to control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden told CNN Tuesday.

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“We’ve seen outbreaks of Ebola before. This is the first epidemic spreading widely through many countries and it is spiraling out of control,” said Frieden, who recently returned from a trip to the region. “It’s bad now, much worse than the numbers show. It’s going to get even worse in the very near future.”

More than 2,600 people have been infected by Ebola in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria since the outbreak began in December, according to the World Health Organization. More than 1,500 have died.

Other countries are turning their backs on those coming from countries where the outbreak is strongest, even if they don’t realize it, he said.

Measures to restrict flights and border crossings into the countries facing the outbreak were designed to contain the spread, but are having a paradoxical effect, Frieden said.

“This is making it really hard to get help in and to respond effectively to the outbreak,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.”

“What we’re seeing is a spiraling of cases, a hugely fast increase in cases, that’s harder and harder to manage,” he said. “The more we can get in there and tamp that down, the fewer cases we’ll have in the weeks and months to come.”

CNN’s Michaela Pereira contributed to this report.


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