When he reached his third-story workstation at a construction site near Pittsburgh two weeks ago, Errol Madyun saw the noose — thick, neatly knotted and strong enough to hang a man.
“It was intimidating,” said Madyun, a black ironworker.
More than 400 miles south in North Carolina, Terry Grier, superintendent of Guilford County schools, saw the same type of noose last month at predominantly black T.W. Andrews High near Greensboro.
“It was huge,” Grier, who is white, said of a noose he discovered hanging from a flag pole, one of four placed at the school. “I became very angry. Part of what you think is it’s a copycat of Jena.”
Law enforcement authorities, including the Justice Department, are expressing concern over a recent spate of noose sightings that have occurred in the aftermath of events in Jena, the small Louisiana lumber town that has been engulfed by racial strife and was the scene of a recent civil rights demonstration.
A nation’s symbol of hate
Nooses have been looped over a tree at the University of Maryland, knotted to the end of stage ropes at a suburban Memphis theater, slung on the doorknob of a black professor’s office at Columbia University in New York, tossed in a janitor’s closet at a Long Island police station, stuffed in the duffel bag of a black Coast Guard cadet aboard an historic ship and even draped around the neck of a black Barbie doll in a Pittsburgh suburb.
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The hangman’s rope is so prolific, some say, that it threatens to replace the Nazi swastika and the Ku Klux Klan cross as the nation’s reigning symbol of hate.
“I think the noose is replacing the burning cross in the minds of many white people as the primary symbol of the Klan,” said Mark Potok, editor of the Intelligence Report, a magazine at the Southern Poverty Law Center that examines hate groups.
Last week, the Justice Department called the placing of nooses “shameful” and deplored the sense of fear and intimidation they are meant to convey. “Many of these cowardly actions may also violate federal and state civil rights and hate crime laws.”
But the Justice Department could not point to any recent arrests for hate crimes as a result of incidents involving nooses and at a House Judiciary Committee hearing this week Democrats sharply criticized department officials for not aggressively pursuing such cases.
Racism in the workplace
During the years of widespread lynching between 1882 and 1930, Congress rebuffed appeals by civil rights groups to pass an anti-lynching law.
Last year in June, the Senate passed a resolution apologizing for not taking action by passing anti-lynching legislation that could have helped to quell the violence. And yet, said Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chairwoman Naomi Earp, the noose is still being used to intimidate blacks.
Earp said the number of racial harassment cases filed at the EEOC since 2000 has already surpassed the total number of all cases filed in the 1990s.
Since 2001, the commission has filed two dozen lawsuits for racial harassment cases involving nooses.
In one case, white employees in Texas placed a rope around a black worker’s neck and choked him.