In Oakland, CA police found five ropes hanging from trees in a city park. Mayor Libby Schaaf denounced this as an act of racism and announced that a hate crimes investigation was underway.
The only problem: the ropes were not nooses at all. They were swings that a local man set up to use for fun and exercise. Victor Sengbe, who happens to be black, explained: “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. It’s unfortunate that a genuine gesture of just wanting to have a good time got misinterpreted into something so heinous.”
That’s for sure.
But bizarrely, city officials don’t seem to care. Schaaf said that people must “start with the assumption that these are hate crimes.” She continued: “Intentions don’t matter when it comes to terrorizing the public. It is incumbent on all of us to know the actual history of racial violence, of terrorism, that a noose represents and that we as a city must remove these terrorizing symbols from the public view.”
Director of parks and recreation Nicholas Williams added, “The symbolism of the rope hanging in the tree is malicious regardless of intent. It’s evil, and it symbolizes hatred.”
These are some of the dumbest sentiments I have ever heard.
First of all, to say that something is “malicious regardless of intent” is an oxymoron. The definition of “malicious” is “full of, characterized by, or showing malice; intentionally harmful; spiteful” or “vicious, wanton, or mischievous in motivation or purpose.” In other words, it is the intention that determines whether or not an action is malicious.
Additionally, to start with the assumption that the ropes are hate crimes is just wrong. A central tenet of the American legal system is that people are presumed innocent unless proven guilty. And logically, if something could have either an evil or an innocuous explanation, one should assume the innocuous explanation. Why automatically assume the worst of your fellow human beings?
To describe rope swings as “terrorizing symbols” and to claim that they “terrorize the public” is preposterous. How could someone be terrorized by some ropes hanging from trees? Contrary to the claims of Schaaf and Williams, intentions do matter. The ropes were not nooses. They were swings. Swings are not evil. Swings do not symbolize hatred.
If you are terrorized by swings, that is your problem. Removing the swings, as the city did, is unfair to Sengbe and all the other Oakland residents who enjoyed them. The mayor and city government owe their citizens an apology for their ridiculous overreaction.