HANOVER, N.H. -- Sledgehammer-wielding Dartmouth College students, saying they want to restore 'pride and sparkle' to their campus green, today smashed shanties built to protest living conditions under apartheid in South Africa.
Police Capt. William Moore said 12 Dartmouth students with sledgehammers and a crowbar began destroying the scrap-wood shanties shortly before 3 a.m. He said they dismantled three of the four shanties.
Two female apartheid protesters were inside one of the shanties but were not injured, Moore said, although they claimed the vandals verbally threatened them. The 12 students were taken to campus police headquarters but no immediate charges were filed, he said.
A spokeswoman for the Dartmouth Committee to Beautify the Green Before Winter Carnival claimed responsibility for the attack.
'The members of this committee are not trying to stifle debate on campus,' said spokeswoman Debbie Stone, a junior from Keene. 'We are merely picking trash up off the green and restoring pride and sparkle to the college we love so much.
'It (the group) does not believe that the structures on the green constitute an allowable protest,' she said.
The four shanties were moved in early January to the back of the campus green to make room for a large ice sculpture for the upcoming 76th winter carnival, which begins Feb. 6.
She said the group wanted to donate the scrap wood to charities in the Upper Connecticut River Valley area for fuel for heating stoves.
College spokesman Rick Adams said authorities were investigating the incident but no charges were being contemplated.
A spokesman for the Dartmouth Committee for Divestment, which built the shanties last fall to protest the college's investments in firms linked to South Africa, said three of the four shanties were badly damaged.
Spokesman Will Horter said he was shocked the attack occurred the night after the nation celebrated the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., who dedicated his life to improving the plight of blacks and other victims of oppression.
'This is just unbelievable,' Horter said. 'These people must have been racist to have done this on Martin Luther King's birthday.'
'That's absolutely unfounded and ridiculous' said Stone. 'This has nothing to do with our political views.'
Stone said the carnival committee was formed Jan. 17 and was partly a project of the conservative Dartmouth Review newspaper. She said the group 'firmly believes in everyone's right to free speech.'
She also denied that a member of the committee verbally threatened the two anti-apartheid protesters sleeping in one of the shanties. 'One member peeked in and sort of said, 'Hi,'' she said.
Stone said the group rented a truck to haul away the wood. She said the group chose to move at night because memberes did not want to spark any 'fistfights' between the two groups or endanger any other students.
Protesters built the shanties last fall to symbolize the living conditions of blacks in South Africa and help force the administration into divesting holdings in firms linked to the racially divided nation.