To understand the question, you must understand the history and context. First the facts. On the morning of June 18, a resident was walking along Civic Center Drive. For those unfamiliar with Rohnert Park, this is a residential area that runs parallel to the Rohnert Park Expressway from Country Club towards the Spreckels Performing Arts Center. In the 900 block, they saw what they thought was a noose hanging from a tree. They took a picture, reported it to the authorities and posted their concern on social media. The person reporting the incident stated they hoped the incident would be “fully investigated” by law enforcement.
The Department of Public Safety started an investigation. Chief Tim Mattos issued a public statement. He acknowledged finding a rope with a loop hanging from a branch, which was removed and placed into evidence. He stated, “The Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety does not tolerate hate crimes, threats, or disparate treatment of anyone.” The statement was updated later that evening. They had contacted the property management company for the condos where the rope was tied. Mattos reported they “confirmed that the rope has been in the trees since before COVID-19, it was placed there for the kids to use as a swing.”
That satisfied some, others were unsatisfied. Social media discussion continued. Some stated it couldn’t be a swing – too high off the ground. Another said yes it was. They lived across the street and had seen kids using it as a swing. A third asked if it’s been there that long, why hasn’t anybody seen it before? Seems coincidental that only now during these turbulent times it becomes visible. Yet another said it doesn’t matter whether it was a noose or swing, we must acknowledge that this type of stuff happens in Rohnert Park too.
Next the context. It matters. George Floyd died at the hands of the Minneapolis police on May 26. Protests broke out nationwide. Just last week we had our own “March in the Friendly City.” Ours was peaceful, others haven’t been. Regardless, many voices have been raised and eyes opened about a variety of issues impacting persons of color in America today. It’s fair to say that there is a heightened sensitivity to racial issues, symbols, and voices.
Also, media reports have circulated about nooses and hangings of persons of color. In Oakland, five ropes described as nooses were found around Lake Merritt. A black resident of the city stepped forward to say he had put them up months ago for exercise, not as symbols of hate. Unexplained is the recent dummy that hung in effigy in that same area. There also have been actual hangings of people; in New York City, Houston and two in Southern California. Ruled as suicides initially, they now are being more thoroughly investigated. So, given that context – it’s not surprising a rope with a loop was reported as a noose in Rohnert Park.
Hanging by rope has been around for decades. It goes back to at least colonial days in both America and England. Death by hanging was a method of imposing capital punishment. But the history of the noose is especially significant to African Americans. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) lists the noose as a general hate symbol. One of the most powerful visual symbols directed against folks of color. It evokes deep emotions like how Jewish folks feel about the swastika. Lynching or the threat of lynching, was a widespread tool, particularly in the south after the Civil War, used mainly by whites to maintain social control of blacks after slavery was outlawed. Nooses and burning crosses were often left at the homes of black citizens by the Ku Klux Klan to remind them to keep their place.
The resident who made the report said they can’t know the intent of whomever hung it. Yet they questioned how “Anyone in the neighborhood would see that and think it was normal.” Also, they reported the responding officers seemed “kind of at a loss and unsure” of what to do when they arrived. So maybe the question of whether it was a noose, or a swing isn’t the important question. Perhaps the important question is when we see possible symbols or acts of hate and discrimination what do we do? Do we say something? Report it? Or do we just walk on by, minding our own business because we’re hesitant to get involved?