(July 4, 2014) On June 12, Lamar Watkins entered the U.S Post Office branch at 484 Main St. to check his mail box and noticed what appeared to be a hangman’s noose, dangling from a display of stars-and-striped top hats in the employee section, but in clear view of customers.
Stunned that one of the most powerful hate symbols targeting African-Americans would be so casually displayed in a federal building, Mr. Watkins, in an email to the local chapter of the NAACP, said he confronted a postal worker and asked for an explanation.
“I asked the worker … if he knew what it represented, and he looked at me and acted as if he didn’t hear me.”
In fact, the apparent noose, which was photographed by Mr. Watkins, remained in place for 15 more days.
It wasn’t until Charles Jackson, an NAACP official, visited the office and demanded its removal that it was taken down, and then only reluctantly, according to Mr. Jackson.
“I asked the clerk if the noose could be removed, and he said yes, but no one moved to remove it,” he said, adding that he had to specify that it be done immediately.
The incident is being investigated by the U.S. Inspector General’s office, according to a spokesman in that office, and the U.S. Postal Service, in an email statement, said it “does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, real or perceived,” and pledged to take any action deemed appropriate upon the completion of the inspector general’s investigation.
While there are employment, criminal and civil rights laws preventing the display of hanging nooses, each case is generally determined by the intent of the perpetrator, whether the person or individuals intended to use the symbol in a threatening or intimidating manner.
Yet, for African-Americans, there is no room for debate over such displays, according to Patricia Yancey, president of the Worcester Chapter of the NAACP.
The hangman’s noose, she noted, is inextricably linked to the historical use of lynching in the United States to intimidate and control African-Americans, a point underscored in a Harvard Civil Rights — Civil Liberties Law Review article.
According to the article, of some 4,743 people lynched between 1882, the year of the earliest recorded, and 1968, most — more than 70 percent — were black.
“It frightens me to see such a vile symbol of hatred and intimidation hanging inside a government agency, right across the street from City Hall,” Ms. Yancey said.
“It is incomprehensible that this can happen; that people feel this is acceptable, so much so that they had to be forced to remove it. I consider this a hate crime, and you have to question the training and the accountability or our post office officials and employees.”
Some might question the logic in taking an isolated incident at a local post office to check the pulse of the nation’s civil rights credentials, but as we marked the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the country’s diversity is staunchly being viewed by some as an impediment rather than an asset.
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter, for example, recently questioned the legitimacy of the “new Americans” who are helping to propel the country’s love of soccer.
“Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay,” she declared.
Yes, displaying a hangman’s noose at one of our local post offices is a troubling symptom of our politics, which increasingly are being dictated by the extreme views of a minority of Americans, many of whom have ruminated publicly that we would be better off returning the country to its roots in slavery.