The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Oakland's mayor said five ropes found hanging from trees in a city park are nooses and racially-charged symbols of terror but a resident said they are merely exercise equipment that he put up there months ago….
The Police Department provided five photographs of trees, some of which showed knotted ropes and one that appeared to have a piece of plastic pipe attached to a rope, hanging from tree limbs.
Victor Sengbe, who is black, told KGO-TV that the ropes were part of a rigging that he and his friends used as part of a larger swing system. He also shared video of the swing in use.
"Out of the dozen and hundreds and thousands of people that walked by, no one has thought that it looked anywhere close to a noose. Folks have used it for exercise. It was really a fun addition to the park that we tried to create," Sengbe said.
"It's unfortunate that a genuine gesture of just wanting to have a good time got misinterpreted into something so heinous," he told the station….
Police said several community members came forward during their initial investigation to say the ropes were used for exercise and a man came forward to say he put them up several months ago….
I appreciate that the city might not want anything hanging off the trees that's offputting to some park users (the trees aren't a public forum opened for public use)—or for that matter that might cause physical injury. But it's a reminder that things aren't always as they may seem to some.
Note also that one common argument for why hate crimes (e.g., a racially-motivated assault) should lead to greater punishment is that such a crime "is no ordinary crime because it transcends its immediate victims and strikes fear and terror into entire communities," in the words of now-Senator Charles Shumer. That suggests that, if there's an ambiguous incident, it may be better for government officials and the media to resist labeling it a hate crime until some more investigation takes place, since false reports can "strike fear and terror" as much as accurate ones can. (I'm certainly not saying there should be any prohibition on such premature labeling, just a preference to avoid prematurely publicly assuming the worst.)
Thanks to Ed Driscoll at InstaPundit for the pointer.