It’s an issue that I just can’t seem to escape. It is the journalistic equivalent of the movie Groundhog Day, in which the main character, played by Bill Murray, wakes up every day, predestined to live the same day over and over again. This is how I feel about the resurgence of noose displays around the country, and most recently in our own South Florida backyard, Pembroke Pines.
Several weeks ago, I rested my columnist pen and donned the impartial hat of a reporter in order to cover the display of a noose at Somerset Academy in Pembroke Pines. The young lady who reported the noose hanging from an outdoor lunch table umbrella, Moremi Akinde, is a 14-year old freshman at the school. The stepdaughter of Brad Bennett, the executive editor of the South Florida Times, Moremi confronted the multiethnic group of students seated at the table from which the noose hung.
Finding a certain level of hilarity and amusement at Moremi’s outrage at the dangling symbol of lynching, these young people dismissed Moremi and were less than forthcoming to the headmaster of the school when he inquired about the origin and craftsmen of the hanging noose.
Careful to give a fair and balanced account of the facts of the situation, I steered clear of my laptop and did not type a keystroke until speaking with administrators from the school.
The noose was defined by the headmaster as “small…but very detailed.” All parties of the school administration that consented to speak with me were steadfast in their condemnation of the incident and their commitment to investigate and duly punish the perpetrators.
Then, a funny thing happened…
A few days later, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported the headmaster’s new theory, that a cord used to secure the umbrella during a storm may have been mistaken as a noose. Reminiscent of the Warren Commission’s “magic bullet” theory in the JFK assassination, the headmaster “recalled” requesting that a maintenance worker secure the umbrella to the table, and that the securing slip knot may have been misconstrued.
Had the headmaster not initially told me unequivocally that he was confronted with a “small…but very detailed” noose and how the sight of it left him outraged, I may have been more willing to accept this alternate theory of the crime. Instead, it became abundantly clear what predicated this manipulation of facts: Damage control.
When it comes to issues of controversy, the modus operandi for far too many is to circle the wagons while simultaneously burying their heads in the sand. But, as Dr. Phil always says, “You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.”
When the reporters start calling and the cameras from the local news stations arrive, no company, organization or school is eager to divulge the reality of nooses, swastikas or hate literature existing as part of their landscape.
It is this reticence to address the issue with candor and honesty which has contributed to the “Year of the Noose” becoming a never-ending story.
In the case of Moremi Akinde, by speaking up about the noose, the high school freshman has been unfortunately transformed into Somerset Academy’s public enemy number one.
On the local NBC6 website that carried the story, I was left with my mouth agape at the pages of comments that berated her as an attention-seeking troublemaker who took things like this too seriously.
Many of the comments were from individuals identifying themselves as Somerset students or members of the diverse Somerset family. They wrote off the noose as just a joke or, in one case, as a stunt perpetrated by Moremi herself in an effort to garner media attention.
While the administrators of Somerset quote ethnic breakdowns and their careful attention to cultural sensitivity, they seem to have fallen into the same trap of marginalization as did the administrators of Jena High School in Louisiana when they labeled the nooses that swung from their courtyard tree an “adolescent prank.”
As an institution charged with the academic growth and development of our youth, the school – and its administrators – have no place for bureaucratic avoidance of the issue by changing first-person accounts under the spotlight of media scrutiny.
Clearly, the comments I saw on the website should prompt a responsible administration to acknowledge that within their midst there are students who deem the display of a noose a joke, and that maybe their educational mission should be expanded to address this reality.
There will always be those who trivialize these noose sightings and reports as just another example of African-American hypersensitivity. Somehow, our Jewish brothers and sisters do not receive the same scrutiny when a swastika appears on a synagogue or in other places public or private.
Just as in the case of the swastika, no group of people should be urged to “get over” a symbol of hatred or cultural bias. It will be through education, awareness and the promotion of respect that Americans, both young and old, will begin to understand that a noose is not funny, and lynching was a part of our history that we should study, but never revisit.
Richard McCulloch may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org