How serious should the threat of a hate crime be taken? According to Ellis Cose, the African American author of Ignore the Noose Makers, to pay too much attention to the idiocy of those who hang nooses simply to intimidate their black target, â€œis to grant them an importance they do not deserve.â€ Nooses have a horrific history associated with them. They are known to be used in lynching (punishing people for crimes by private citizens without trial, whether they are guilty or not), of which three quarters of the cases in American history were against blacks. George Curry, another African American author of Calling Nooses What They Are â€“ Terrorism, feels strongly that these threats are not to be taken lightly, and with that attitude people will not be able to â€œbridge the racial divide.â€
The American people are protected from hate crimes and verbal threats, and the hanging of a noose is a threat in itself of which their victims deserve protection from. The fact that Congress recognizes crimes motivated by bias as more serious than the crime committed alone is not in question. â€œCongress has passed the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act, which increases penalties for some federal crimes when they are motivated by bias.â€ The debate is whether or not these laws should be applied to the widespread appearance of nooses since 2007, when the treatment of the â€œJena 6â€ received nationwide press coverage. Nooses were hung in a tree at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana, which caused racial tensions to escalate over the months following August 2006, after the principle was overruled when he recommended expelling the students found responsible for the outrage.
A black student was attacked in November by a mob of white students, of which one member of the group was charged with battery and released on probation. In turn, a white student was attacked after taunting the victim of the previous beating. But the black students did not get off so easy. They were charged with attempted second-degree murder. American courts need to use this as a prime example of how a so-called â€œcry for attentionâ€ can escalate into serious, harmful chaos. Websterâ€™s Dictionary defines lynching as â€œthe practice of punishing men for crimes by private unauthorized persons, without a legal trial . . . to inflict punishment without forms of law, as by a mob.â€
There were many different forms of lynching, all of which are traumatic and unjust; one may be whipped, shot, mutilated, dragged behind cars, or burned alive. The most popular choice, though, were public hangings. This is where the noose comes in as a powerful symbol of the horrible way in which African Americans suffered at the hands of their racist white captors, most notably the Ku Klux Klan. It is unfair to claim that the hanging of a noose is anything short of a potential hate crime.
According to law, it is not illegal for people to hang nooses on their own private property, or to display any other negative distaste for a minority group based on their religion, sex, political status, race, or other affiliation. The police cannot force a person to remove any of their personal expressions of opinion and to attempt to do so would be an obstruction of their constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech. If someone goes outside their private property and hangs a noose in a public area, or the private property of another citizen without their permission, the law has every right to remove it and the individuals may be sued by the person whom is being â€œattackedâ€.
There are some who believe a â€œhate crimeâ€ should not hold a more severe sentence than the crime in itself; that a person should not be singled out for beating up a black man because they are black anymore than they should receive punishment for assault and battery alone. But hanging a noose on someoneâ€™s doorknob should be taken into account as a serious threat that deserves attention and investigation. Who is to say which of these intimidations are for a sick, twisted laugh and which are real threats which will be followed soon after with action?
There are two solid points in the debate between Ignore the Noose Makers and Calling Nooses What They Are â€“ Terrorism. The intelligent people in America realize that on the other side of the spectrum there are the ignorant, biased individuals who hang nooses for a laugh. To ignore these people is to deprive them of a learning experience capable of making them understand the impact of their actions on others. There can be no true racial equality until all hate crimes are taken seriously and people are educated on the history behind the props they use in them. It is difficult to make the call as to whether or not the threat possibly associated with hanging a noose will manifest itself into reality. Still, everyone would rather feel safe than sorry.
Patterns for College Writing: A Rhetorical Reader and Guide. Ed. Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. New York: Bedford/St. Martinâ€™s, 2010.
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