A noose left around the neck of the Homer statue on the south Lawn in early September sparked a hate crime investigation that has drawn the help of the FBI and a $10,000 reward for more information.
Security footage from September 7 shows a man climbing the statue and placing the noose before midnight. UVA security personnel discovered it around 4 a.m. the next day.
In a message to the University community that day, President James E. Ryan (Law ’92) wrote, “The facts available indicate that this was an act intended to intimidate members of this community. A noose is a recognizable and well-known symbol of violence, most closely associated with the racially motivated lynchings of African Americans. The combination of those factors led University public safety officials to determine that this incident met the criteria of a hate crime.”
Virginia law makes displaying a noose in a public place with the intent to intimidate a felony, carrying a potential one- to five-year prison sentence. University Police Department officials have not publicly identified a suspect but have released security footage images of a man and a dark sedan. An anonymous donor enhanced UPD’s original $2,000 reward to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest.
As the investigation continued through mid-September, Black students and supporters staged protests at the Rotunda, the Homer statue and a recent home football game, many holding signs saying, “WE STILL HERE!,” a message that was also painted on Beta Bridge.
An open letter published in the Cavalier Daily on September 17 and signed Black U.Va. expressed frustration and distrust in the administration’s response, and demanded more transparency about the investigation, including the contents of documents also found at the Homer statue.
“The University administration not only fails to keep us safe, but also actively impedes our ability to take measures to protect ourselves by withholding crucial information from our community,” it said. “Whether labeled as a hate crime or a threat, we are terrified of both.”
Two days after the letter published, representatives of Black U.Va. arrived at Madison Hall to deliver a copy and meet with the president. A meeting got scheduled for later in the week, with Ryan, his chief of staff Margaret Grundy Noland (Col ’06, Darden ’15), and student affairs Vice President and Dean of Students Robyn S. Hadley convening with five students, according to Noland, who said the group is working to meet regularly.
On September 22, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis and Associate Vice President for Safety and Security and Chief of Police Tim Longo shared an update with the University community, verifying that a document found at the statue was marked “TICK TOCK.”
“Investigators are still seeking to determine the relevance and relationship between that document and the placement of the noose, as well as the potential significance of the phrase on the document,” they wrote. “Because the investigation is ongoing, we are unable to reveal anything more at this time, except to say, again, that nothing recovered at the scene conveys a specific threat to public safety.”
Davis and Longo also addressed two other incidents that were compounding unease, particularly for Black students, on Grounds. In mid-August, rocks had been thrown through the windows of the Office of African American Affairs on Dawson’s Row. In their update, Davis and Longo revealed that a student had been charged in that vandalism. They said that the incident was not racially motivated, nor was it connected to the hate crime.
They also shared that UPD and the FBI investigated a third suspicious incident in mid-September, in which someone had anonymously left a mysterious flag near the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers and delivered an $888.88 check to a student’s room. The person turned out to be an alumnus with no motive beyond micro-philanthropy and thus no connection to the other two incidents, according to Davis and Longo’s message.
Concerned Black alumni have reached out to students to offer support. On a recent call, Les Williams (Engr ’00) said, he and other alumni talked with students about safety. “We told them to stay safe, walk in groups. And as we were talking, we said to ourselves, ‘It’s sick that we have to tell young Black students on a college campus in 2022 to walk in groups.’”
For Williams, who is also an adjunct professor in the engineering school and a member of the Alumni Association’s Board of Managers, the news of the hate crime didn’t initially hit home.
“I’ve been so numb to this type of stuff based on a ton of sick stuff that has happened in this country over the past five years and counting. It took me some time to process. … We’re still licking our wounds from August 2017. After it sunk in, I was like, ‘Oh man, not again.’”
UVA Alumni Association President & CEO Lily West (Darden ’12), said she has spoken with numerous alumni and shares those concerns. “We condemn this act of hate and recognize that moments like these are unsettling, especially for Black students, and only add to the invisible weight already carried by so many. Everyone deserves to feel safe in our community, and we all have a role to play in making that possible.”