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Police investigating nooses hung at Mississippi Capitol to protest state's racial history ahead of Hyde-Smith vs. Espy runoff

"We're hanging nooses to remind people that times haven't changed," read one of the signs found with the nooses.
Image: Noose Mississippi State Capitol
Noose found at Mississippi State Capitol.WLBT

Nooses were found hanging outside the Mississippi State Capitol on Monday, along with signs that referenced the racially charged Senate runoff race on Tuesday.

"On Tuesday Nov. 27, thousands of Mississippians will vote for a senator. We need someone who respects the lives of lynch victims," one sign said, according to a Capitol Police spokesman who read it to NBC News.

"We're hanging nooses to remind people that times haven't changed," read another sign.

The five signs were handwritten on poster board and affixed to the trees on the eve of the runoff Senate election on Tuesday between Democrat Mike Espy, who is black, and Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who has come under fire for her comment about attending a "public hanging" and voter suppression, which her campaign later said was a joke.

Police posted images of the signs on Facebook on Monday afternoon, seeking tips from the community.

One sign recalls the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman, while another says "Willie Jones Jr. lynched for a relationship."

Jones, a black man, was found hanging from a tree earlier this year outside his white girlfriend's home in Forest, Mississippi. Local authorities ruled the hanging a suicide, but his family recently teamed up with a local NAACP chapter to call for further investigation.

State police were first alerted to the nooses and signs by NBC affiliate WLBT, which received a tip to check out the area, said Chuck McIntosh, communications director for the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees the Capitol grounds.

"As of late this morning, they did not have any suspects," McIntosh told NBC News, referring to the Capitol police.

Espy told reporters on Monday that he wasn't linking Hyde-Smith to the nooses.

"I can't connect that to her. I wouldn’t do that. That'd be unfair," he said.

The closing weeks of the Senate contest — the last of the lengthy primary season — have been dogged by racial issues.

The Jackson Free-Press reported on Friday that Hyde-Smith had attended Lawrence County Academy in Brookhaven, Mississippi, during the 1970s. The now-shuttered school — one of the so-called "segregation academies" — was founded in 1970 to flout an order to integrate the state's schools and had a confederate general mascot, according to the local weekly.

In their debate last week, Espy accused Hyde-Smith of having given Mississippi "another black eye" on racial issues.

The Republican incumbent said her public hanging comment "was twisted, was turned into a weapon to be used against me." If anyone was offended, Hyde-Smith said, "I certainly apologize."

Espy shot back.

"No one twisted your comments," he said at the debate. "They came out of your mouth. I don't know what's in your heart — but we all know what came out of your mouth...It's caused our state harm. It's given our state another black eye that we don't need."

Because of the state's racially motivated killings — Mississippi lead the nation for lynchings in the decades after the Civil War Democrats and civil rights advocates have ripped into Hyde-Smith.

President Donald Trump is scheduled to campaign at two stops for Hyde-Smith later Monday. In a tweet on Sunday encouraging voters to cast their ballots for the GOP candidate, Trump wrote Hyde-Smith is "respected by all. We need her in Washington! Thanks!"