Community responds to noose effigies found at Cal

This effigy was one of three authorities say was hung at the UC Berkeley campus Saturday morning. Photo: Cal Black Student Union

This effigy was one of three authorities say was hung on the UC Berkeley campus Saturday. Photo: Cal Black Student Union

By Frances Dinkelspiel and Emilie Raguso

Sunday, Dec. 14, 5 p.m. An anonymous artists’ collective has taken responsibility for the effigies strung up in nooses at UC Berkeley on Saturday.

The statement from the collective:

“We are a collective of queer and POC artists responsible for the images of historical lynchings posted to several locations in Berkeley and Oakland,” reads a notice the group distributed. “These images connect past events to present ones – referencing endemic faultlines of hatred and persecution that are and should be deeply unsettling to the American consciousness. We choose to remain anonymous because this is not about us as artists, but about the growing movement to address these pervasive wrongs.”

See past Berkeleyside coverage of the Berkeley protests.

“For those who think these images are no longer relevant to the social framework in which black Americans exist everyday – we respectfully disagree. Garner, Brown, and others are victims of systemic racism. For those who think these images depict crimes and attitudes too distasteful to be seen .. we respectfully disagree. Our society must never forget. For those under the mistaken assumption that the images themselves were intended as an act of racism – we vehemently disagree and intended only the confrontation of historical context.”

“We apologize solely and profusely to Black Americans who felt further attacked by this work. We are sorry – your pain is ours, our families’, our history’s. To all, each image represents a true life ended by an unimaginable act of ignorance and human cruelty: Laura Nelson, George Meadows, Michael Donald, Charlie Hale, Garfield Burley, Curtis Brown. We urge you to further research the lives and deaths of these individuals. History must be confronted.”

Click the image to see the original tweet.

Click the image above to see the original tweet.

Pablo Gonzalez, a Cal professor of Chicano studies, said the notice above was posted on a bulletin board on the UC Berkeley campus and passed on to him. He, in turn, posted it on Twitter.

Berkeleyside has reached out to multiple individuals to try to talk directly with the collective, but have not to this point received a response.

Sunday, Dec. 14, 2:45 p.m. UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks sent the following message to the campus community shortly before 1 p.m. Sunday. It appears below in full.

Scroll down for details of the noose incident, information from police about what took place on campus Saturday, and an interview with a UC Berkeley professor who is an expert on the psychology of race relations. The statement from Nicholas Dirks follows.

Dear campus community,

On Saturday morning, two hanging effigies were left on Sather Gate with reports of a third elsewhere on campus. We are not sure about the intent of these effigies as one contained the words “Can’t Breathe,” but nonetheless, the imagery was deeply disturbing.

The African American community has historically faced the terrorism of lynchings used in an attempt to suppress and control. While we do not know the intent of the effigies, the impact that it has had on our campus community is undeniable.

No individual or group has claimed responsibility. If you were responsible for this, we invite you to come forward.

We must all be vigilant to ensure that we are creating a campus environment that allows for the free exchange of ideas and doesn’t frighten or intimidate people. Our campus climate reminds us that we still have great deal of work to do to make this campus a welcoming place for all members.

We have been and will continue to work with the student leadership, the Black Student Union and others on campus staff and groups to create opportunities to address the concerns and develop a plan for improving our campus climate, not only related to these effigies but also the events of the past several weeks.

We recognize the stress and anxiety that current events are generating for the members of our extended community, and have faith that we will emerge stronger and more unified, precisely through our commitment to realizing the inclusion and justice that have long been the promise of this institution and this country.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, Claude Steele

Saturday, Dec. 13, 2:15 p.m. Pastor Michael McBride, who received tweeted photos of the effigies Saturday morning, said “the anonymity connected to that expression, whether it was by antagonists or allies, contributes to the racial terror that black people have to face in the country. We find it radically insensitive at best and a re-inscription of racial terror  … and we need everybody to join with us to say #BlackLivesMatter.”

Listen to his interview with Berkeleyside reporter Natalie Orenstein below. (Caution: He was marching and not all of it is easy to hear.)

1:40 p.m. It appears as if one of the effigies hung from Sather Gate is a replica of a famous photo of a young man who was lynched in 1911.

1:30 p.m. One of the effigies is a cardboard cutout of a woman with “#I Can’t Breathe,” and “Laura Nelson 1911” written on it. Nelson and her son, L.D. Nelson, were lynched on May 25, 1911, in Oklahoma, according to Wikipedia.

The lynchings happened after the deputy sheriff and three others arrived at the Nelson home on May 2 to investigate the theft of a cow. L.D. Nelson shot and killed the deputy sheriff, and he and Laura Nelson, who had also touched the gun, were charged with murder.

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 1.38.49 PM

“At around midnight on May 24, Laura and L.D. Nelson were both kidnapped from their cells by a group of between a dozen and 40 men,” according to Wikipedia.

“Sightseers gathered on the bridge the following morning and photographs of the hanging bodies were sold as postcards; the one of Laura is the only known surviving photograph of a female lynching victim. No one was ever charged with the murders; the district judge convened a grand jury, but the killers were never identified.”

1:10 p.m. Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, a UC Berkeley professor and national expert on intergroup relations — particularly related to race — said Saturday afternoon that he had been upset to learn about the effigies on campus earlier in the day.

“Whether it’s commentary or provocation, it’s atrocious,” he said. “It’s just mean, period. And heartless. And whoever did that simply needs to grow up.”

Mendoza-Denton said it’s difficult to know exactly how to interpret the effigies, whether as a “thoughtless joke” or “straight-up inflammatory racist behavior.”

“It falls somewhere along the line between prank and consciously racist messaging,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter. It’s absolutely thoughtless and wrong. Given the volatility of the situation, it’s just damaging to everybody. It’s a very public and clear example that racism exists at all levels of society, and it’s precisely the kind of symbol that protesters are protesting against.”

Mendoza-Denton said he has been keeping a close eye on this past week’s protests in Berkeley, and had been sad to see all the broken windows in businesses downtown as he drove through the area Saturday. He said he does not support the violence but, “at the same time, there’s a lot of pent-up frustration and anger.”

Mendoza-Denton said, beyond the protests, the community needs a forum to come together for healing and communication. A week and a half ago, the UC Berkeley Black Student Union held one such event on campus, and Berkeley High students along with REALM Charter School students staged a walkout and rally, that culminated with a “die-in” on the UC Berkeley campus several days ago.

Mendoza-Denton said there have been a number of informal forums, but that nothing large-scale has been planned by the university to his knowledge.

“We need to come together to heal,” he said. “There are a lot of different factions, a lot of different voices, and not a lot of control over the messaging one way or another. We need a forum to help us process these very emotionally laden, very relevant events. But that has to be a two-way street. It has to be a dialogue. And there’s got to be goodwill. And effigies are the very antithesis of that.”

12:26 p.m. UC Berkeley spokeswoman Claire Holmes called Berkeleyside back to clarify some information.

She said University of California Police Department officers found two effigies hanging from Sather Gate on Saturday.

They also saw a photo of a third effigy in an area they think was the Campanile. When police went to remove it, they could not find it, said Holmes. Police believe that someone else took it down.

One of the effigies hanging from Sather Gate had “Can’t Breathe,” written on it. Eric Garner kept saying that when Staten Island police held him in a chokehold.

The effigies were life-sized, she said They were made from paper stuffed into clothing cardboard cut outs, she said.

UC Berkeley Police received its first call about the matter at 9:10 a.m., she said.

Update 12:07 p.m. UC police found three effigies hanging from a noose on the UC Berkeley campus this morning, according to Claire Holmes, a university spokeswoman. There was some writing on the effigies, including “Put Your Hands Up,” she said.

The effigies were found at Sather Gate and around the campanile, she said. No suspects have been detained.

“It’s unclear what the intent was,,” said Holmes. “It could be that these are related to police violence and the protests that are going on in Ferguson. It could be racially motivated as well.”

Police are combing the campus to see if there are any others, said Holmes. (See one of the effigies here, and below.)

Original story, 11:54 a.m. UC Berkeley police have confirmed that someone strung up an effigy from Sather Gate around 9 a.m., three hours before a #BlackLivesMatter march was scheduled to begin. It has been taken down. Berkeleyside will update this story as more information becomes available.

Related:
Police Review Commission asks for suspension of tear gas (12.12.14)
2 officials demand investigation into tear gas use (12.10.14)
Op-ed: 5 myths about East Bay #BlackLivesMatter protests (12.10.14)
Op-ed: Talking about violence is not a distraction — The Berkeley protests for Ferguson (12.10.14)
Berkeley protesters breach freeway again (12.09.14)
Gallery: Third night of Berkeley protests, trains halted, a freeway brought to a standstill (12.09.14)
After protests, City Council meeting cancelled
(12.09.14)
City of Berkeley calls for invite-only press conference for TV news (12.09.14)
CHP arrest 150 protesters after they block I-80 freeway (12.09.14)
City told police to use restraint, avoid tear gas, on second night of protests (12.08.14)
Photo Gallery: Two nights of protests, riots in Berkeley (12.08.14)
Pastor: Brown’s death was the final straw that galvanized communities across the nation (12.08.14)
Protesters take to streets for second night: violence, vandalism of local businesses, looting (12.07.14)
Ferguson demo: injuries reported, tear gas used, property vandalized; arrests (12.06.14)
Cal students, supporters hold ‘black lives matter’ rally (12.04.14)

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  • Waldo

    “Garner and Brown” … so soon they have dropped the Trayvon Martin trope.

  • Hephaestus

    So why didn’t these enlightened individuals chose something to depict
    the horrible black on black killings in the American war zones of our
    cities like Chicago?

  • Dalipals

    They should be charged with a hate crime.

  • paulejb

    They should be sent to their rooms without dinner or their i-phones.

  • Carl Fales

    Of course it was a bunch of liberals that did this. Every time a so-called “hate crime” occurs on campus it turns out to be a hoax committed by liberals hoping to get conservatives blamed for the “hate crime”. Every. Single. Time.

  • Chris

    I have to say, I’m quite surprised that people interpret this as a “hate crime” by the artists. I think it’s pretty clear that the artists were equating the current atmosphere of racism to the past. It was intended to be an attention getter to spark conversation on racial discrimination today, but it was also very insensative. There are many other ways to bring about a discussion on this topic to hopefully enact changes on a system with built-in discrimination. The visual image of any hanging evokes deep emotions in those who were historically victimized.

  • RichardAubrey

    Heaven Sutton (aka “who?”) was unavailable for comment.

  • Sam

    Easily predicted and assumed to be the work of lefties..and vindicated. Don’t take no genius.

  • Sam

    Not “stunning” at all. It’s who the left is, it’s what they do.

  • HealthyAmerican

    If this guy did it, it’s a hate crime. If that guy did it, it’s thought-provoking art. Yeah, our society’s gonna do just fine from here on out…

  • guest

    Ever thought about intent?

  • Dalipals

    What was there intent? To cause a riot?

  • everybody knows

    Maybe now people can stop freaking out of dodge when there is racist graffiti scrawled in the bathrooms. There is finally a citable precedent that allows us to consider that it might have been somebody other than closet klan or neo-nutsies.

  • Dalipals

    All for the sake of art.
    I like your line of thinking. The “It was art defense”. The grownup version of the “I was just joking defense’, we all used as kids.

  • lspanker

    Sure, many of us have though of the intent behind this, which is to whip up animosity and hysteria among black folks – all part of keeping them hysterical and worked up against white mainstream society, instead of looking in the mirror and accepting some personal responsibility for their own actions.

  • lspanker

    It doesn’t serve their own agenda, which is to blame Whitey and The Man for all their own failures.

  • Mad

    I’m tempted to go there and hang another one for Lennon Lacy, Who was lynched and the police covered it up. They hung him to death in the middle of a white trailer park with a dog leash and a couple of belts. Police cleaned it up and made it look like a suicide.

  • Seriously?

    Hanging an empty noose from a tree around Halloween: HATE CRIME, MUST BE INVESTIGATED.

    Lynching black people in effigy right before Christmas: What’s the big deal?

  • John Freeman

    “…Lynching black people in effigy…”

    Is not a thing that happened. You’ve been reading bad news reporting.

  • HealthyAmerican

    Yup. Intent is and should only be a factor in determining the severity of a crime, not the thick line between animosity and open admiration.

  • Paul Myers

    Pastor McBride of the article has it right to my read.
    It is the anonymity of this/these actor(s) that is a major problem here.
    Free speech? Of course.
    (Especially when no one is going to be executed, sent to The Gulag, etc. for such communication, however repulsive to most.)
    But free speech is best exorcized when the individual(s) “speaking” transparently identify themselves along with their speech.
    Otherwise, he/she/they/it can’t readily he called to task for the speech/actions with the responses of others.
    To me, this holds true whether the communication is to be labeled “art”, “hate speech”, “a joke”, “political speech”, whatever.

  • CarolunS

    I think these effigies are inappropriate. We could have effigies all over campus of, say, women killed by their male partners, people killed in armed robberies, people killed by untreated mentally ill people, children killed by their mom’s boyfriend etc.