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Black Penn State students demand protection

Penn State Black Caucus spokeswoman Assata Richards, center, leads a crowd in prayer  

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Metal detectors at graduation?

Threats span 2 years


STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Hundreds of students at Penn State University packed an auditorium Tuesday night for a town-hall meeting on race relations, with black leaders expressing fear after numerous death threats.

Black students have been on edge in recent days after the body of a black man was found about 20 miles from campus. A death threat to an African-American student leader last week stated a black man had been killed, although the body was found in a different location than the spot mentioned in the letter.

Police said there was no connection between the death and the campus death threat.

But that has brought little consolation to students -- some of whom now have bodyguards for protection.

"You must ask yourself this question: Why would the university be so proactively distancing itself from this body when there have been no black males dead in the '90s? And this black male body comes one week after a letter says you will find one," one student said at the NAACP-sponsored forum.

Another student said, "How can an objective investigation be conducted when the very people who are conducting the investigation have ... already ruled it out, that this body could be connected."

Supporters of the Penn State Black Caucus gather inside the Hetzel Union Building on the campus  

Metal detectors at graduation?

Jeffrey Johnson, the national youth director for the NAACP, called for stricter security and said the school must take the recent threats to students seriously. One threat said a bomb will be planted at graduation ceremonies, scheduled for May 12.

"This university has got to -- must -- stand up and say, 'We as the Penn State University will not tolerate any racist action or behavior on this campus,'" Johnson said.

He called on the university to expel anyone who makes such threats and for those people to be prosecuted under hate-crimes statutes -- a demand that drew roaring applause from students.

Johnson said the university should place metal detectors at graduation and conduct pat-down searches. He also called for a full independent investigation of the body found, as well as two others that were found within 200 miles of campus.

Some 300 to 500 black students have been holed up for a week in the student center, demanding protection as well as more diversification programs at the university.

"As the Black Caucus was trying to raise awareness of the failure of Penn State to increase diversity, we began getting more and more letters, and they actually became more threatening," said LaKeisha Wolf, president of the Black Caucus.

Wolf, a 21-year-old senior, now has around-the-clock protection after receiving four death threats, including a letter last week that said, "We are determined to rid this place of this black blight on our community. Those like you have been run off or killed."

Threats span 2 years

That obscenity-laced letter has since been handed over to local police and the FBI. The letter said a black man had been killed and his body could be found near the summit of nearby Mount Nittany.

Rodney Erickson, Penn State executive vice president, left, and Terrell Jones, vice provost for education equity, leave after a meeting with the Black Caucus  

A search of the site has not turned up anything.

Terrel Jones, the university's vice provost for educational equity, said school officials are extremely disturbed by the threats.

"I think we've done everything that we can do (to provide security). I'm still not happy," Jones said. "It's not a good thing to think that we have students who are unsafe and feel unsafe at the university."

He added, "I simply just don't know how to catch the people responsible for this."

Last week, Penn State announced it will add faculty to the African and African-American Studies Department, put $1 million toward an Africana Studies Research Center and gave Jones more oversight.

The threatening letters have spanned about two years. In November 1999, more than 60 Penn State students received racist e-mail messages signed by "The Patriot." That e-mail was traced to a site about 200 miles from campus.

The threatening letters intensified in the past two months as black student leaders pressed the university to enhance its diversification programs.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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