The shock, anger and outrage from the discovery of nooses hanging on trees at American University in Northwest and from the new Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History on the National Mall hadn’t quite began to dissipate when the symbol of hate again was discovered in the District.
This time, a noose was found hanging in Ward 7, the Hillcrest neighborhood of Southeast, again leaving city officials and residents outraged.
It’s also left many wanting answers.
“A noose is a symbol of hatred and call for violence,” said Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray, who spent Sunday trying to rearrange his schedule to attend a candlelight vigil held by leaders of the East Washington Heights Baptist Church. “This is a despicable act, but we are not intimidated.
“Every day, our community is working together to uplift one another,” Gray said. “We are united and strong. When we are threatened, we stand together. We also stand with other communities who have had to endure hate acts.”
The vigil and an accompanying rally, which received the assistance of MPD Assistant Chief James Short, had been planned as a response to the noose being discovered in Ward 7 and as a means by which residents could express their frustration while also opening up discussions about such actions of hanging a noose — the symbol of lynching and murder during the middle and early parts of the 20th century and during the dark years of slavery.
Workers found the noose hanging from a house under construction on a residential street at about 5 p.m. Thursday, D.C. police said. The location on 36th Place sits across the street from Beers Elementary School.
“I have been assured by the MPD sixth district commander and the MPD chief that they will investigate this heinous act not as a prank, but as a serious crime,” Gray said. “I have also asked Commander David Taylor to assign additional police to the area around Beers Elementary School. And, we must put more electronic surveillance around our schools to extend the reach of police.”
At a gathering at the Hillcrest Recreation Center over the weekend, Mayor Muriel Bowser expressed outrage over the terrifying find. She promised that the District would not be intimidated by such a cowardly act of racism.
“Who would have thought in 2017 that I would be talking to you about a noose in an African-American history museum or a noose in Hillcrest?” the mayor said. “Unfortunately over the last year, we have seen a rise in both hateful speech, hateful rhetoric and real hate crimes.”
The FBI had already been assisting American University officials investigate a May incident where bananas were found hanging from nooses on campus on the same day an African-American woman took office as the student government president for the first time in the school’s history.
Additionally, a noose was discovered earlier this month on an exhibit at the new African-American history museum on the National Mall and another on May 27 hanging on the grounds of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Southwest.
Loops of rope have long been used to intimidate African-Americans because they evoke lynchings. The nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative said there were 4,075 lynchings of blacks in the South to spread racial terror between 1877 and 1950.
For blacks, the noose is “comparable in the emotions that it evokes to that of the swastika for Jews,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“I’ve seen in the last couple of months more instances of nooses being used to intimidate people,” said Denison University professor Jack Shuler, who authored “The Thirteenth Turn: A History of the Noose” and has studied lynching and noose imagery in the U.S. “I think we’re in a situation right now where people who express hateful opinions are being allowed to speak freely and it’s become OK again.”
Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said she blames the rhetoric from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, during which he pledged to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and ban Muslim immigrants.
Trump also claimed for a long time that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
“Putting those sentiments in public from a presidential campaign has sanctioned a lot of people,” Beirich told the Tribune. “Things they might have kept inside themselves, that they have kept quiet about, have burst out.”
Gray also said he believed the nooses could be tied to those emboldened by the policies of the Trump administration.
“Unfortunately, I cannot prove it but when you look at what’s coming out of the administration …,” Gray said.
The former mayor also noted the importance of vigils and rallies.
“They keep the conversation going and I encourage parents to talk about this with their children,” he said. “We can’t assume the kids know that the noose is a symbol of racism, ignorance, hate and it takes us back to the time decades ago when so-called justice was being meted out against blacks. We also must assure parents, students, and educators that they safety of our schools is paramount.”