Nooses Remind Us: We Can’t be Silent Bystanders

  • January 15, 2008

This column ran in the January 2008 edition of the Denver Urban Spectrum.

This fall, an African-American employee of the Arapahoe County Weatherization Department found a noose hanging in the cab of one of the department’s work trucks. A month later, another African-American colleague found a second noose in a department insulation trailer. Two months later, yet another noose was found at a shed owned by the city of Aurora.

Evoking the horrifying images of lynchings in America’s past, a hangman’s noose has come to be one of the most powerful visual symbols of hate, similar in intent and emotional impact to the use of swastikas and burning crosses.

The origin of the noose as a hate symbol is connected to the history of lynching in America, particularly in the South after the Civil War, when intimidation and violence replaced slavery as one of the main forms of social control that whites used against African Americans. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century coincided with the height of lynching incidents (whose victims included mostly African Americans, but also Jews and other minorities), thus cementing the noose as a key symbol of hate. The recent appearances of nooses in our communities are acts of hate and are intended to intimidate and instill fear. They cry to their intended targets, “You still do not belong!”

These acts not only give the perpetrators a sense of power and belonging, but they can spread fear among the targeted victims and threaten the safety and security of every member of the targeted group and the community as a whole.

What can be done? What should we do, as concerned neighbors, friends or co-workers? We must stand up and condemn these incidents whenever they occur. It is imperative that the perpetrators of such hateful acts receive a strong message that their hateful beliefs are not shared by the general public. It is equally important that the victim and the victim’s community also hear that message.

The best antidote to hateful actions and speech is counter-speech exposing hate, setting the record straight, and promoting the values of respect and inclusivity. We must educate people especially our youth who have no memory of the civil rights era and Jim Crow about the consequences of unchecked racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and prejudice. And we must encourage an open and honest examination of the underlying hatred and potential violence these incidents represent.

While not every hate incident is a hate crime, law enforcement officials should take both criminal and non-criminal hate acts seriously. If they find that a hate crime was committed, they need to prosecute the crime to the fullest extent permitted under Colorado’s Hate Crimes Law.

Good people cannot remain bystanders. All of us must unite and send this message loud and clear that all people, of any color, sexual orientation, gender, ability, religion or ethnicity, are welcome, safe, protected and included in our society. Colorado is no place for hate.

Editor’s note: Since 1913, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been one of the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and hatred, defending democratic ideals and protecting civil rights for all. Through its A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE ® Institute, ADL provides diversity and anti-bias training and resources for the community, schools and law enforcement officials. For more information, visit, e-mail or call 303-830-7177.