A likeness of Barack Obama was found hanging from a noose in a campus tree Wednesday.
UK Police received a report at 7:45 a.m. that the Democratic presidential candidateâ€™s likeness was hanging from a tree between Parking Structure #2 and the Mining and Mineral Resources Building near the W. T. Young Library walkway. At 8:25 a.m., members of UKâ€™s physical plant division cut the effigy down using a crane, said UK spokeswoman Kathy Johnson.
No suspects have been identified yet, but UK Police are working with federal authorities on the case, Johnson said. Secret Service was called as part of standard protocol, she said.
The figure wore khaki pants and a blue sports coat, said hospitality management junior A.J. Mertz, who saw the effigy when it was hanging. The figure also wore a mask to resemble a black man, Mertz said. Johnson confirmed it was a Barack Obama mask.
Mertz said he saw the life-size figure dangling from a tree and thought it was a person. Startled, Mertz did not want to walk closer, but as he moved toward the tree he saw it was not a real person.
Mertz said he did not want to even take a picture of the effigy because he â€œdidnâ€™t want anyone to see it that didnâ€™t have to.â€
â€œI was disgusted and hurt someone would deface the university and put something up of this magnitude,â€ he said.
If someone were to be arrested in connection with the hanging figure, he or she would be charged with harassment with a hate bias, a misdemeanor charge, Johnson said. Whether or not federal charges would be pressed is in the hands of federal authorities, she said.
UK Police declined to comment on the case, referring all calls to UK Public Relations.
If the person committing the crime were a student, whether they would be punished would depend on the circumstances, said Tony Blanton, associate dean of students. Because almost no circumstances of the Obama effigy are known, Blanton said he could not comment specifically on the case.
As a rule, for the university to impose any punishment from a warning to expulsion, UK has to prove the student was provoking or threatening another student. If the effigy was making a political statement, it would be covered because of First Amendment rights, he said.
â€œWe donâ€™t have the right not to be offended,â€ Blanton said. â€œWe have the right not to be harassed, not to be intimidated.â€
Communications and psychology sophomore Khai Johannes said he was not surprised by the effigy. Some people arenâ€™t open to change, he said, a problem that will only grow closer to the election. An Obama win would make it worse, he said.
â€œItâ€™s funny in my opinion because the same person who did that is probably a guy sitting in the football stands cheering for black football players,â€ he said. â€œBut when someone tries to take a leadership role, watch out.â€
UK is not the first place to have a symbol against Obama or other contenders in the 2008 presidential race.
A similar incident occurred two weeks ago when a man, Mike Lunsford, hung an Obama effigy in his yard in Fairfield, Ohio, about 100 miles north of Lexington.
A life-size representation of Sarah Palin hanging from the front of a West Hollywood manâ€™s house has caused controversy as well. The man, Chad Michael Morrisette, had defended the statueâ€™s presence, citing First Amendment rights.
At George Fox University, a small Christian college near Portland, Ore., an Obama effigy was cut down on Sept. 23.
Two Arkansas men were arrested this week in connection with a plot to kill Obama as well as shoot or decapitate 88 black people. Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn., and Paul Schlesselman 18, of Helena-West Helena, Ark., planned on killing 88 because each word of â€œHeil Hitlerâ€ begins with H, the eighth letter in the alphabet, police said.
The effigyâ€™s message is especially strong in southern states such as Kentucky because of lynchingâ€™s tie to the regionâ€™s past, said UK political science professor Christopher Rice. The practice was used not just to kill people but also to scare black people who witnessed the suffering.
The noose, a symbol of lynching, and Obama being black come together to create a message with a clear meaning, Rice said.
â€œWould you see (2004 Democratic nominee) John Kerry in effigy? No, you would not,â€ he said. â€œSenator Obama is African-American, and it provokes this racially-charged thinking. â€˜Donâ€™t vote for so-and-so because he is black.â€™â€
How effective such a strategy is depends on whom the effigyâ€™s creators were trying to access, Rice said.
â€œTo me thatâ€™s unclear,â€ he said. â€œThe University of Kentucky isnâ€™t going to be an environment thatâ€™s going to be sympathetic to that.â€
Human nutrition freshman Lauren Brinkman had not heard about the effigy, but said the representation was
â€œjust too much.â€ Brinkman, who said she likes neither Obama nor Republican opponent John McCain, said what wins people is a good argument, not an ugly symbol.
â€œNo oneâ€™s going to take you seriously if you do something like that,â€ she said.
UK Police are requesting anyone with information call the department at (859) 257-1616.
If you have photos of or information about the effigy, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (859) 257-1915.