warning lynch image below
4 students admitted to hanging the life sized effigy of Obama from a tree on George Fox campus in Oregon this past week. The incident, which I wrote about previously, involved not only the effigy but a sign condemning the college’s economic and cultural diversity scholarship program which has enrolled slightly more than 1/2 of 1% of the total student body (17 students, 16 of color).
The 4 students are claiming that the effigy was a joke and not a racially motivated attack. The idea of lynching as a joke seems to be common on school campuses this past year starting with the most infamous case in Jena Louisiana in which nooses were hung from a “white’s only tree” after black students sat beneath it. After the widespread discussion of the latter case as well as the noose imagery that spread across college campuses, including at least one in Oregon, it is hard to believe these 4 students are still claiming it as “a joke.”
Another interesting aspect of this case is that the exact same life sized Obama images were used to promote his speaking engagement outside high schools in Oregon. While many made no comment, or enjoyed them, some criticized their presence with what others might consider racial undertones in their complaint. Since they were event related they were not posted at any other time but continued to be on sale in Oregon to commemorate the speaking engagements. It is likely this is how the 4 students got one.
The Christian college has given all 4 students “lengthy suspensions” (time period undisclosed) and community service. They have also implemented discussions about diversity campus wide and publicly condemned the incident within hours of its discovery.
Board President Barbara Palmer said the college
community had responded with hugs and other demonstrations of support
for Act Six and other minority students. Hmm . . . I wonder if that was like when some white students offered to take me to coffee after the unit on segregation . . . I hope not. While expressions of solidarity from white students and faculty and admin are important, useless gestures designed more to assuage one’s own feelings of guilty or that ultimately minimize the level of threat a lynching image represents only help increase the sense of being unsafe and/or in an environment lacking understanding.
Worse was the response of the local police. Newberg Police Sgt. Tim Weaver said it wasn’t clear that any crime was committed almost immediately following the first press report of the incident and Lt. Jeff Kosmicki of the Newberg Police said no state law was broken. The Newberg police have since officially said that they will do nothing because the effigy “did not violate any specific state law.” That means no arrests will be made nor legal action taken in Newberg. (Sounds a lot like what happened to the noose hangers in Jena doesn’t it? And no the fact that white presidents have been hung in effigy is not the same thing b/c of the very specific racial comments attached to the effigy in this case that show a clear understanding of the racial overtones of lynching and the desire to target not only a black presidential candidate but students of color on George Fox campus. The comment attached to the effigy’s chest was not “his policies suck” it was about diversity programs and financial aid for students of color and poor students. Also there is no specific history of actual lynchings of white people as a form of punishing political and social “transgressions,” thwarting the franchise, and targeting local political and church figures. Take a good look at the image to the right and the involvement of women, children, and male officials in the murder of black people by lynching and say you don’t get the difference.)
The Yamhill County District Attorney’s office was little better. They claimed the effigy did not represent a direct threat despite the clear issues of racialized targeting – specific to the campus and historical – I mention above. If they are confused about why a life sized likeness of a black man with the a sign that specifically calls out 16 students of color on campus, they need to take a long look at the lynching image above as well. See the smiling girl right up close to the tree? She thinks its a joke too.
Trying to soften the conclusion, DA Brad Berry said, “This behavior is
reprehensible, but not all offensive behavior is criminal.” At least this is better than the DA in Jena who warned people complaining about the noose incident they would be punished and/or “wiped off the face of the map.” Nevertheless we have this thing in the US, its called a Hate Crimes Bill and so yes, racially offensive behavior is in fact criminal. Last time I checked Oregon was subject to Federal law even if it did fight on the side of the South during the civil war to prevent that.
The FBI is still concluding its investigation of the 4 students. If they are found guilty of a Federal Hate Crime or threats against an acting Senator and potential president, the fines and jail time could be quite severe. The FBI has not disclosed what it intends to do or what penalties it will likely level. They have said their investigation of the 4 students is still ongoing.
Brad Lau, the VP for Student Life at George Fox, released a statement reminding people of the Christian values that George Fox teaches:
Displays such as this have no place on a campus that is dedicated to living out the teachings of Jesus.
While they may have ignored or through privilege been unaware of a campus climate that allowed for the resentment of its diversity programs, students of color, that allowed for both this national level and localized level expression of hatred, George Fox can be commended for doing a much better job of addressing the issue immediately, publicly, and with full condemnation than many of the other schools experiencing racism in Oregon’s Higher Educational system and around the nation. At the same time, we cannot forget the climate in the area as evidenced by the comments made by law enforcement and the DA’s office. Given the other unprosecuted or limited prosecution of hate crimes in other areas of the state, as well as cover ups at some schools, we cannot simply call this an isolated incident in a conservative county either though I think many would like to do just that.
I’ve asked my many Oregon readers to weigh in on record and the only one brave enough was a George Fox student who said his peers were all shocked by the mock lynching. I want to hear from the rest of you.
read more here
- Obama life-sized cardboard image – same as used in mock lynching
- 1935 lynching in FL. image unattributed – note the number of smiling children in dress clothes around the body, like it was a joke.
- truck with noose driven through Jena during the Jena 6 protest rally – image unattributed