Sunday, March 30, 2008

No More Nooses. Not Now. Not Ever.

Putting a noose on or near someone's property is a racist symbol of intimidation. And if the Connecticut State General Assembly continues on its current path, it will soon be a criminal offense.

On 25 March 2008, the Legislature's Judiciary Committee voted 43-0 in favor of a bill that makes it a hate crime to hang a noose on public or private property, without permission of the property owner, and with the intent to harass or intimidate.

Unfortunately, Connecticut has not been immune to such disgraces. In Stamford, several nooses were found hanging at a downtown construction site. In Greenwich, a noose was left dangling over a Hispanic supervisor's desk, by a Black employee, at the Connecticut Health of Greenwich nursing home on King Street. In Bridgeport, a police officer found a noose underneath her patrol car. At the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, nooses were left for a Black cadet and an officer conducting race relations training last summer.

Most infamous was the incident in Jena, La., last year in which white students hung nooses from a tree and Black students were charged with beating a white youth. That led to nationwide demonstrations and a renewed understanding about hate crimes. It is not necessary to cause physical harm for such an act to be damaging.
Under the bill, someone found guilty of hanging a noose to intimidate could face a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison, a $2,000 fine, or both.

This puts the act on a similar level with state law in regards to burning crosses for purposes of intimidation. Neither can be tolerated under any circumstances.

In a speech to mark Black History Month, last month, President Bush aptly described what the noose means in our history.

"Fathers were dragged from their homes in the dark of night before the eyes of their terrified children," he said. "Summary executions were held by torchlight in front of hateful crowds. In many cases, law enforcement officers responsible for protecting the victims were complicit in their deaths."

Surely there will be some misguided souls who'll say this is an overreaction, that most of those who leave nooses do so as pranks, or without realizing the oppressive reality of what the hangman's rope means in our country. If you know someone who feels that way, tell them to do a quick Internet search for images of nooses in America. They'll find plenty of examples of the "Strange Fruit" that Billie Holiday sang about: Black men dangling grotesquely from ropes, usually above a crowd of white people, including some with wide smiles on their faces, and including children.

Ignorance is no excuse. Putting up a noose is not a prank; it's a crime.

The unanimous approval in committee signals that this bill is likely to proceed out of the Legislature, and the governor should sign it when it reaches her desk. Statements that she made following some of the noose incidents in our state suggest that she will. The noose is a symbol of one of the darkest periods in U.S. history, and its use as a tool of intimidation must be punishable under the law. Increased penalties won't put a stop to such despicable acts, but they will help ensure that people pay a price for them.

1 comment:

andrewhimes said...

I am interested in talking to London Stevenson about Millington, Tennessee. I grew up in Millington, attended a white school and church, and I was a witness to some of the hate-filled and racist responses to the first attempts at integration in Millington in 1963. I have been working on a memoir of those years, and would welcome a conversation with someone else who lived in that community, especially from the point of view of the black community.

Andrew Himes -- andy @ voicesinwartime.org