American University hate crime investigation concludes, officials unable to identify suspect

- American University says officials have concluded their search and have been unable to identify a suspect after a racist incident, targeting African American students on campus last year.

University officials said bananas hanging by strings in the shape of nooses were found in at least three locations on campus on May 1, 2017.

American University President Sylvia M. Burwell released a statement, calling the lack of outcome "disappointing," and encouraged students to "continue to work together as a community and focus on actions to improve the well-being and safety of all."

"Nearly one year ago, on May 1, 2017, our community experienced the pain of a deeply troubling racist act. American University’s police department elevated the hate crime to the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia to work in partnership on the investigation.

Although the investigation has been aggressively pursued for nearly a year, the US Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and American University Police have shared their assessment that all credible leads have been exhausted at this time and no suspect has been identified to date. If someone comes forward with additional information, it will be investigated.

I know this is disappointing. I recognize the anger and grief that many experienced because of this traumatic event and understand that this is not the outcome we hoped for. We must create our own path to healing as a community.

The best way I know to move forward is to continue to work together as a community and focus on actions to improve the well-being and safety of all. We will not waver from our commitment to ensure that ours is an inclusive, safe campus for everyone. In the past year, we have taken important steps forward to improve public safety and launched our Plan for Inclusive Excellence. AU cannot be excellent without being truly inclusive, and without taking the concrete, specific steps to improve our campus climate.

Colleges and universities continue to be targets of hate. American University will respond, unified, with resilience and determination to pursue our goals."

Officials said in the May 2017 incident, the bananas were marked with the letters "AKA" which represent Alpha Kappa Alpha, a sorority whose members are predominantly African American.

The incident occurred on the same day that the university's first black female student government president, Taylor Dumpson, took office. Dumpson is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

The bananas allegedly also included the words "Harambe bait," referring to the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo that was shot and killed after a child fell into its enclosure.

AU police released video showing a suspect hanging the bananas between 3:45 and 4:15 a.m. that morning. with a reward of $1,000 is offered for information leading to the identification of the suspect.

The university has had past issues of racism and racially-insensitive incident, including in September, when 10 Confederate flag fliers were found hanging with cotton stalks taped to them in four American University buildings.

In September 2016, a banana was thrown at a black student who was in the Black Student Alliance, in a group preparing for a demonstration. There was also a report of a banana being placed near another black female student's door.

In January, AU launched a "plan for inclusive excellence," which requires students take a two-part course focusing on diversity and inclusion. The plan will cost the university $60 million in 2018.

Anyone with information on the racially-charged incidents on AU's campus is asked to call police at (202) 885-2527 or can file a tip anonymously online.

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