Nooses remind blacks of horrors of the past

Sar-ron Beverly knew about nooses from family stories and historical photos. But he never understood their power until he walked into his boss’s Fairfield, Calif., office one day and saw one hanging from the ceiling, in front of a bookshelf and a family portrait.

“It was just too much,” said Beverly, 30. “I’m from Mississippi. My grandparents moved to California to get away from this stuff.

“A hangman’s noose shows the ultimate hatred for African-Americans.”

Since a noose hanging in a school yard triggered a civil-rights firestorm this summer in Jena, La., there’s been a resurgence of nooses across the United States. They’ve been found in a post office, in a hospital, on a professor’s door, in a Coast Guard cadet’s bag, in a fire station and on a bronze sculpture of the late rapper Tupac Shakur.

Snohomish County has not been immune in the past: Two incidents involving nooses were reported in 2004 in Monroe.

Historians and academics are examining why the noose is resurfacing and trying to explain its current cultural significance. Some say the symbol will always represent hate and proves that racism still exists in America. Others say the nooses are meaningless pranks.

Whatever the case, the fear and anger that a noose incites among blacks are real.

Between 1882 and 1968, there were a documented 4,743 lynchings in the United States, and most victims were black men. Victims were usually beaten and hanged, often in public squares. White families would watch and take photos.

No one was ever convicted of murder in connection with any of the deaths.

“Many white people are unaware of the incredible power of the lynching story for African-Americans,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, a professor of law at the University of Maryland and a former civil-rights attorney. “Lynching was a message crime. It served to tell the black community that there were boundaries. Don’t get too educated. Don’t vote. Don’t get too wealthy. Don’t look at a white woman.

“It was not just used to punish an individual, but to serve as a threat to others.”

Displaying a noose is illegal under federal hate-crime laws if it is intended to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person, or to attempt to do so, by force or threat of force, because of that person’s race, color, religion or national origin.

In 2005, the most recent statistics available from the FBI, there were 3,919 racial hate crimes reported nationwide. Of those, more than 67 percent — 2,630 — were against black people.

Attorney and radio host Warren Ballentine has called for blacks to demonstrate their economic muscle by not spending any money Friday to protest the noose incidents.

And a march on the nation’s capital is planned for Nov. 16 to call for tougher prosecution of hate-crime laws by local and state officials as well as the federal government.

Beverly walked off his work site the day he saw the noose. He and others left notes saying, “I am requesting an immediate leave of absence due to the noose hanging in the office of Richard Buikema, as discovered this morning. The racial overture makes me feel uncomfortable and unsafe.”

Although he returned to his job, Beverly was fired in May. Buikema, the manager, was not disciplined because a B.R. Funsten investigation determined that he didn’t intend the noose to be a racial statement, the lawsuit states.

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