About a week ago, photos of Black people who were killed by police and private citizens were attached to nooses and hung from a tree in Riverside Park on Milwaukee’s east side. Those pictured were Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, and Botham Jean.
People who saw the photos and nooses were angry and shocked, and the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office opened an investigation.
On Friday, the department said a Black man admitted to creating the display. He hoped to invoke “a dialogue on how Black and brown men and women are dying in our country”… and to “teach his son a lesson about the history of lynchings.”
Yet the image of the noose is abhorrent, especially for Black people. David Pate, an associate professor in the department of social work at UW-Milwaukee, says he doesn't see the Riverside Park incident as anything other than hate.
"The symbol of the noose is purely and simply a symbol of hate," Pate says. "It's a symbol for fear. It's a symbol for you should know your place. It's been that symbol since the Reconstruction Era when people were very much feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the fact that Blacks were now free and able to make their own decisions."
We spoke with Pate before the sheriff’s department knew who was responsible for hanging the photos and why. At the time, we asked Pate what he thought about the speculations circulating social media: was it fueled by hate or was it a moment to bring to attention to a larger conversation. He says the latter is in line with the idea of color blindness.
“Color blindness only perpetuates injustice. And unless this country comes to terms with the idea that 401 years ago, people were brought as enslaved people to produce and develop the democracy that currently exists, to develop the country that we currently have, to allow one group in particular — those who are white — the opportunity to flourish and gain economic security, it’s ignorance if you think it’s that," he says.
Pate says the noose is a part of American history that was used to say, “I have my rope on your neck and I will kill you if I think you are not abiding by the rules as I think they should be for a country that I have colonialized for my purpose.”
He says the noose can’t be anything but a symbol of hate, particularly when it’s directed at Black people.
“And if someone Black did this, they have a problem and they don’t understand their history as to what a noose symbolizes," Pate says.
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