Picture this, if you will:
In a major city, a series of five ropes attached to trees sounds the alarm that a hate crime may be afoot.
The police department conducts an all-out search for the suspect. He turns himself in with commendable rapidity, actually. That’s because he’s a black man who helped put those ropes there as part of a fitness course in the park.
The man assumes he’s going to be cleared, given his intention was never to intimidate people — and anyway, he would be one of the people he would purport to intimidate.
The white mayor of the city has different intentions. Not only does she declare his intentions didn’t matter, she says he was still “terrorizing the public.”
She lectures the man about how he doesn’t understand the historical impact of what he did, and one gets the feeling she might be angling toward something more.
This is the very June 2020 situation playing out in Oakland, California, at the moment, in which Mayor Libby Schaaf and her parks and recreation director are currently directing their Two Minutes Hate at Victor Sengbe, a black man, for not knowing that anything that involves a rope and a loop can be considered a symbol so rebarbative we must recoil not just from it but from those who put it up.
On Wednesday, according to KGO-TV, Schaaf announced that a hate crime investigation was underway after the ropes were found near Lake Merritt on Tuesday.
This was apparently the concern:
These were swings. This is absurd grandstanding from our Mayor. This is my personal photo from April 9th, 2020 when I first saw them in the park. pic.twitter.com/cSrUlGgV1f
— Joe LoCascio (@josephlocascio) June 18, 2020
Sengbe said the ropes were part of a larger rigging for exercise.
“Out of the hundreds, thousands of people who walked by, no one even thought it looked anywhere close to a noose,” Sengbe said. “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,” he added.
Problem solved, right? No, it was time for the mayor to whitesplain about black fear.
“Intentions don’t matter when it comes to terrorizing the public,” Schaaf said, according to The Associated Press.
“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,” she said.
Well, actually, the mayor did acknowledge intent had something to do with whether Sengbe would be charged with a hate crime. This is about as likely as Oakland becoming a Second Amendment sanctuary, so basically what this consisted of was a tongue-lashing of Sengbe.
“The symbolism of the rope hanging in the tree is malicious regardless of intent. It’s evil, and it symbolizes hatred,” said Nicholas Williams, the city’s director of parks and recreation.
Or it was an exercise course. In fact, I tend to believe it was an exercise course.
Schaaf could have decided to just let this go away, but of course she didn’t.
The mayor instead released this video supercut of her sick burns, including that she’d turned over the evidence of this to the FBI:
Intentions do not matter. We will not tolerate symbols of hate in our city. The nooses found at Lake Merritt will be investigated as hate crimes. pic.twitter.com/B1f1SwZ4tK
— Libby Schaaf (@LibbySchaaf) June 18, 2020
“What a privilege for those of us that don’t feel complete fear and terror when we see a rope in a tree, that is a privilege that so many of our African-American residents do not enjoy,” she said.
“You see an overwhelming amount of, of anguish, of rage, of fatigue, of grief, and yes, the fact that we had an extremist charged with the murder of Patrick Underwood, an extremist group, the Boogaloos, that is trying to foment a race war, we have to see this moment for what it is: a reckoning.”
But this is an African-American man who put up a swing in a park that no one thought was a noose until just a few days ago. This was not a member of “Boogaloo,” whatever that group of carbon-wasters may entail.
This wasn’t a racist at all — and intent definitely matters, especially when it’s exercise and entertainment equipment involved.
This was hardly terrorizing black and brown communities. All this did was establish Mayor Schaaf as the whitesplaining Karen of the month.
It would be funny if the consequences for Sengbe weren’t so serious.
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