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West Cancels Trip After Threat Made on His Life

By Kathryn R. Markham

Responding to a bizarre series of personal attacks and threats, Professor of the Philosophy of Religion and Professor of Afro-American Studies Cornel R. West '74 canceled a May 11 Arkansas speaking engagement, according to officials.

The reverend of the church where West was to speak said yesterday that the agency which books West's engagements told him the cancellation was the result of serious security concerns.

On the afternoon of May 5, West's wife reported that she saw a man with a handgun in the driveway of the Wests' home on Commonwealth Ave., according to Lt. Robert McDonald of the Newton Police Department.

West's wife described him as a white male in his fifties wearing a black shirt, McDonald said.

He added that officers searched the premises but were unable to find traces of the intruder. Detectives later returned to the house to make a composite sketch, but West's wife had not seen the man well enough to provide one.

Reverend William Robinson said that he was informed by Helen Chucko, a receptionist at the agency, that "a person with a rifle with a scope on it had drawn a bead on his wife in his home in Massachusetts and she screamed and hit the floor, and by the time the police got there, the individual had gone."

On May 8 or 9, there was a threatening phone call in connection with West's appearance at the University of Utah, West's agent told The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The agent declined to comment on the incidents to The Crimson.

West was in Utah to deliver the 17th annual Lecture on Human Values.

Last Friday, West's housekeeper reported that she saw a prowler around his home, according to The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A reporter for the Democrat-Gazette said West's agent told him that the housekeeper did not call the police at the time, but that West later requested the police provide increased security.

McDonald, however, reported no record of a second police contact after May 5.

In Class

Eliot A. Ratzman, a Divinity School student who took one of West's classes this semester, said the professor made an announcement about the incidents on the last day of class, May 6.

Ratzman said that "he mentioned in class [something that] sounded like a home invasion last week.... It involved someone with a gun and [his wife] screaming.... He wasn't very clear about that."

Ratzman added that West "mentioned that when he was at Princeton, his house was attacked six times in six years."

"He spoke [about] all this in the context of being an outspoken public intellectual, and so the implication was that this had something to do with his being a high-profile black man."

Ratzman reported that after class, West abandoned his usual habit of talking with students and instead simply "took off."

"A few of us were talking and we sort of mentioned how much we were appreciative. For the first time we were made aware that West puts himself in dangerous positions and how important a person he is."

However, Ratzman also said that as of his 4:30 visit to the Afro-American Studies Department yesterday, even Department Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. was not aware of West's absence, leading him to believe that the absence was not serious.

"If it was something really really bad, I think Gates would have found out," Ratzman added.

A temporary receptionist at the Department of Afro-American Studies, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported yesterday that West had been in his office on Monday, but was absent yesterday due to "an emergency."

West did not hold his scheduled office hours yesterday.

The receptionist said, however, that West had scheduled his office hours as usual for today.

Canceled Appearance

The appearance West canceled was supposed to be a speech followed by a panel discussion, centering on two of his recent books, Race Matters and Blacks and Jews: Let the Healing Begin. Organizers had expected between 300 and 500 people, including community religious and civic leaders for the speech.

Don Wilson, program administrator of the church, was unwilling to comment on the specific reasons for West's cancellation.

But he did say, "I know one thing that we were disappointed overall in especially was the reason why it had to be canceled. It's ridiculous that in this day and time in our society people who speak out [can have] their family lives come under some type of threat when they appear to deal with issues that have caused problems in America for centuries."

Motivations for the threats remain unclear.

"His philosophy certainly would upset some people," Robinson said. "He's a professor and he digs farther in terms of truth and doesn't take our history in terms of being absolute, and I think that's possibly upset some people."

Robinson said the church is currently seeking to re-schedule the engagement for some time before August 1.

Investigation

Carlton Sedgeley, West's New York agent, said that the Sunday incident is now "under investigation" by police authorities at both Harvard and Newton.

However, Harvard Police Lt. Lawrence J. Murphy told The Crimson yesterday that he was "not aware of anything" regarding West and security.

McDonald said, however, that information about the case had been turned over to Harvard by Newton detectives who reported that "West believes the incident may be work-related."

McDonald said that in the meantime, the police will monitor West's house with special care.

"I know that we told them to increase patrols in his area and keep an eye on his house [after the first incident]," he said

Ratzman said that "he mentioned in class [something that] sounded like a home invasion last week.... It involved someone with a gun and [his wife] screaming.... He wasn't very clear about that."

Ratzman added that West "mentioned that when he was at Princeton, his house was attacked six times in six years."

"He spoke [about] all this in the context of being an outspoken public intellectual, and so the implication was that this had something to do with his being a high-profile black man."

Ratzman reported that after class, West abandoned his usual habit of talking with students and instead simply "took off."

"A few of us were talking and we sort of mentioned how much we were appreciative. For the first time we were made aware that West puts himself in dangerous positions and how important a person he is."

However, Ratzman also said that as of his 4:30 visit to the Afro-American Studies Department yesterday, even Department Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. was not aware of West's absence, leading him to believe that the absence was not serious.

"If it was something really really bad, I think Gates would have found out," Ratzman added.

A temporary receptionist at the Department of Afro-American Studies, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported yesterday that West had been in his office on Monday, but was absent yesterday due to "an emergency."

West did not hold his scheduled office hours yesterday.

The receptionist said, however, that West had scheduled his office hours as usual for today.

Canceled Appearance

The appearance West canceled was supposed to be a speech followed by a panel discussion, centering on two of his recent books, Race Matters and Blacks and Jews: Let the Healing Begin. Organizers had expected between 300 and 500 people, including community religious and civic leaders for the speech.

Don Wilson, program administrator of the church, was unwilling to comment on the specific reasons for West's cancellation.

But he did say, "I know one thing that we were disappointed overall in especially was the reason why it had to be canceled. It's ridiculous that in this day and time in our society people who speak out [can have] their family lives come under some type of threat when they appear to deal with issues that have caused problems in America for centuries."

Motivations for the threats remain unclear.

"His philosophy certainly would upset some people," Robinson said. "He's a professor and he digs farther in terms of truth and doesn't take our history in terms of being absolute, and I think that's possibly upset some people."

Robinson said the church is currently seeking to re-schedule the engagement for some time before August 1.

Investigation

Carlton Sedgeley, West's New York agent, said that the Sunday incident is now "under investigation" by police authorities at both Harvard and Newton.

However, Harvard Police Lt. Lawrence J. Murphy told The Crimson yesterday that he was "not aware of anything" regarding West and security.

McDonald said, however, that information about the case had been turned over to Harvard by Newton detectives who reported that "West believes the incident may be work-related."

McDonald said that in the meantime, the police will monitor West's house with special care.

"I know that we told them to increase patrols in his area and keep an eye on his house [after the first incident]," he said

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