Jon Sanders

Civil rights are endangered worldwide. In Saudi Arabia, a woman who was kidnapped, beaten and gang-raped has been sentenced to 90 lashes for being alone with a man not related to her — then sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail for speaking to the media about her original sentence. In Venezuela, police fired on crowds of students protesting the increasingly dictatorial power of President Hugo Chavez.

And in the United States, at my alma mater, North Carolina State University, someone found a noose made out of toilet paper.

He didn't flush it. Oh no. At a large research university boasting some of the highest minds in America, the discovery in a small maintenance bathroom of one-ply bum fodder bent in the form of a noose is a Very Big Deal. It is most definitely a Civil Rights Crisis. It could very well be a Criminal Act.

Chancellor James Oblinger said as much in his statement to the campus – yes, a T.P. shape merits the attention of the leader of the largest public university in the state of North Carolina – announcing that it "could be someone's idea of a prank or it might constitute a crime."

Black activists angrily denounced the chancellor's response shockingly insufficient. The News & Observer (N&O) of Raleigh reported that "students said they want to hear university leaders making fiery speeches condemning racial hatred." At a meeting of the campus branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, students said the T.P. noose "should have gotten as much media coverage as the (Duke) lacrosse incident." Oblinger was blamed for not understanding the gravity of the situation because he "hadn't had anything happen to him just because he's a white man."

A senior, Robert Waldrup, said "We need to keep someone from hanging from the other end of that noose." Which was, if you will recall, made of toilet paper – the prospect of anyone hanging from it seems impossible, even at a school with a physics department as excellent as N.C. State's. Even that miniscule risk, however, could have been obliterated by a judicious depression of the flush handle.

On Nov. 14 Waldrup wrote a guest column in the student newspaper, Technician, calling the incident "nothing short of domestic terrorism" and proof that at N.C. State, "we are faced with the reality that racially, things have not changed much in 50 years." You may remember the Great Teepee Lynchings of '57.

The next day, N.C. State's student government passed unanimously something called the "Racism and Hatred Incident Act," demanding a campus hate-crimes policy, a stronger response from the administration, and criminal prosecutor of the noose-maker.

Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders is associate director of research at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.