Anonymous artist collective claims responsibility for lynching effigies erected at UC Berkeley

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 that authorities say was hung at the UC Berkeley campus Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014. Photo: Cal Black Student Union

An anonymous artists’ collective posted notices at UC Berkeley on Sunday announcing it had placed three effigies in nooses at Cal — and a number of others around Oakland.

The group created the life-size cardboard cutouts of people who had been lynched to draw parallels between the past and modern day society, according to a statement.

See Berkeleyside coverage of the Berkeley protests.

“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,” they wrote. “We choose to remain anonymous because this is not about us as artists, but about the growing movement to address these pervasive wrongs.”


A student who found one of the notices gave it to Pablo Gonzalez, a Cal professor of Chicano studies. He took a photo of the flyer and posted it to Twitter.

The group apparently hung three effigies at Cal, according to the University of California Police Department. Two were hanging from nooses at Sather Gate and a third appears to have been hung near the Campanile. Police recovered two of the effigies shortly after they were reported at 9:10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 13, but never found the third, according to Claire Holmes, a university spokeswoman. Police only saw a photo of the third.

The Oakland effigies the artists’ collective referenced have not been discovered or reported yet.

See Berkeleyside’s first story on the effigies. It was updated throughout the day.

UC officials said Saturday they did not know the meaning of the effigies, whether they were racist attacks or a commentary on the protest marches that have rocked Berkeley and the Bay Area in past week.


The artists’ statement indicated that the effigies are a commentary:

“We are a collective of queer black 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.”

“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.”

effigies

The two effigies that were made public were representations of people who were lynched in the 20th century. One of the effigies was 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.

“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.

Pastor Michael McBride tweeted this photo of a cut out of Laura Nelson out on Twitter.
Pastor Michael McBride tweeted this photo of a cut out of Laura Nelson out on Twitter.

“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.”

The other individual depicted in the cut out has not been identified.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks issued a statement Sunday. He said, in part:

“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.”

UC Police are continuing to look for the people responsible.

Related:
Effigy hung from Sather Gate before protest march (12.13.14)
UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union leads peaceful protest march from campus to Oakland (12.13.14)
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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