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Ropes resembling nooses found on trees in Oakland investigated by FBI as hate crime

The Oakland Police Department found five ropes attached to trees surrounding Lake Merritt after looking into social media posts about nooses hanging around the lake.
Image: Libby Schaff
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff discusses the presence of ropes found at Lake Merritt during a news conference on June 17, 2020, in Oakland, Calif.Ben Margot / AP

The mayor of Oakland, California, announced Wednesday that ropes resembling nooses tied to trees in public spaces would be investigated by the FBI as a hate crime.

The Oakland Police Department found five ropes attached to trees surrounding Lake Merritt after looking into social media posts about nooses hanging around the lake.

Police said some community members said the ropes were being used for exercise equipment. One person told police he put the ropes in the trees "for exercise and games several months ago."

"The Oakland Police Department and the City of Oakland recognize especially at this time, that any ropes on or attached to trees, limbs or other objects can be associated with hate crimes and racial violence," police said in a statement. "As a Department and City, we understand the historical and harmful associations when ropes are hung from trees and how the impact can harm our communities. We remind and ask our community to be mindful when using this equipment in a recreational manner."

Police are investigating, and Mayor Libby Schaaf said evidence had also been turned over to the FBI after the ropes were removed from the trees.

"Reports that these were part of exercise equipment do not remove nor excuse their torturous and terrorizing effects," Schaaf said in a statement. "We are all responsible for knowing the history and present day reality of lynchings, hate crimes and racial violence. Objects that invoke such terror will not be tolerated in Oakland’s public spaces."

"The evidence has been turned over to the FBI and I want to be clear that regardless of the intentions of whoever put the nooses in our public trees, in our sacred public space here in Oakland intentions don’t matter," Schaaf said later during a news conference.

Oakland Cultural Affairs Commission member Theo Williams speaks about the presence of ropes found at Lake Merritt at a news conference on June 17, 2020, in Oakland, Calif.Ben Margot / AP

Theo Williams, a member of the city's Cultural Affairs Commission, said during the news conference that he feels "whoever did the act should be found and held responsible and prosecuted to the highest extent of the law that we can hold them to, and be made an example of so that anyone knows that we can’t bring that here to Oakland, and if they do bring that here to Oakland, they’re going to be met with resistance."

Victor Sengbe of Oakland told NBC Bay Area that the he doesn't think the ropes were a symbol of hate. He said they were used to attach a makeshift swing.

"Out of the dozens and hundreds and thousands of people that have walked by, no one has thought that it looked anyway close to a noose," he said.

But Nicholas Williams, the Director of Parks, Recreation and Youth Development in Oakland, said Wednesday that while some of the ropes "may have been" exercise equipment, "some of it absolutely was not."

"These are acts of hatred and our country is experiencing that right now but Oakland is about diversity and equity," Williams said.