Human effigy brings another hate crime inquiry in Oakland, California

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    USA TODAY Network journalists across the country documented protests denouncing police brutality and racial bias in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

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    For the second time in two days, the city of Oakland, California, has launched a hate crime investigation.

    A community member called the police early Thursday to report a “fake body hanging from a noose,” the Oakland Police Department told USA TODAY in a statement.

    The caller removed the effigy near Oakland’s Lake Merritt, the same park where authorities found a set of ropes reported to be nooses hanging from trees late Tuesday.

    Oakland police found “material stuffed in the shape of a human body with a rope tied around the torso and neck, laying on the ground next to a tree with an American flag lying next to it,” Johnna Watson, the department’s public information officer, said in a statement.

    “The Oakland Police Department and the City of Oakland understand the historical and harmful associations of ropes, nooses, and effigies attached to trees, limbs, or other objects that are often associated with hate crimes and racial violence,” Watson said.

    On Twitter, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf called the incident “a deliberate and vile attempt to traumatize and divide Oaklanders.”

    “We are in a raw and outraged moment as a city and a country right now,” Schaaf said.

    The Oakland Police Department is working with the FBI to investigate the two incidents. Extra patrols have been assigned to the park, according to OPD.

    On Wednesday, Schaaf announced a hate crime investigation after the ropes were found at the park and later removed.

    A local resident, however, said the ropes were not intended as nooses but rather set up for exercise. 

    “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,” Victor Sengbe, who is Black, told KGO-TV in San Francisco.

    “It’s unfortunate that a genuine gesture of just wanting to have a good time got misinterpreted into something so heinous.”

    Sengbe did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.

    Schaaf also acknowledged that some community members alerted officials that the rope was part of an exercise system, but said that the “symbolism of the rope hanging in the tree is malicious regardless of intent.”

    “Intentions don’t matter when it comes to terrorizing the public,” Schaaf said. “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.”

    The discovery of the ropes came after two Black men, Robert Fuller and Malcolm Harsch, were found hanging from trees in California within weeks of each other. Police in Palmdale initially ruled Fuller’s death as a suicide, but have reopened the case after public protest and scrutiny.

    Contributing: The Associated Press.

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