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Our View: Even if racism isn’t intended, symbols of hate have no place in decorations | COMMENTARY

We ran a story recently about a man who drove past a house in Westminster and saw a figure hanging by a rope from a tree. Upon closer inspection, the Halloween decoration reminded him of a young Black man, with a hoodie on, sagging pants and a noose around his neck. Sam Marshall, who lives in Baltimore, said he was offended. And he wasn’t the only one, based on others we talked to for the story and on the way he said his social media post about the situation “blew up.”

“I know it’s near Halloween time, but this is really a replay of hanging a Black man,” Sam Marshall, who is Black, told us. “I was hurt by what I saw. This is 2020. This community is OK with seeing this.”

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We might have questioned that last sentence, except the reaction to our story on social media confirms exactly that. Of the more than 500 comments posted by mid-day Monday, the vast majority were critical of people who are too sensitive and too easily offended (not to mention being critical of us for writing the story).

Too sensitive or easily offended? This isn’t someone being triggered by the mere utterance of “Merry Christmas.” It isn’t a debate about kneeling during the national anthem. It’s a Black man who, understandably, didn’t want to be reminded of the history of lynchings as he drove down the road. For those who aren’t offended by the hanging figure, that probably means their experience and that of their ancestors is different from those who are. That’s understandable. What’s harder to understand is why we are seemingly losing our compassion and empathy for those who feel differently when viewing such an image.

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To be clear, we assume no bad intent on the part of the homeowner. She said it has nothing to do with racism; that she always does a lot of decorating for Halloween and has displayed the hanging figure in her yard for eight years or so with no complaints. She noted that the figure has a white face and if its pants were sagging, it was probably due to rain.

But this year there were complaints. Carroll County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Jonathan Light said the office received two calls Oct. 9 about a depiction of someone being hanged on the street where the homeowner lives. Deputies determined no crime had been committed and the figure remained hanging in the yard until we contacted the homeowner and she subsequently took it down.

Meredith Weisel, senior associate regional director of the Washington, D.C., region for the Anti-Defamation League, said what was done didn’t rise to the level of a hate crime, but she did put it into context. “Given the long and difficult history of lynchings in America, the recent use of nooses and noose imagery definitely has been seen to threaten and intimidate people within the Black community,” she said. “We would hope people would be more sensitive in choosing Halloween decorations and costumes.”

Anyone can fall into the habit of doing the same thing, year after year, without giving it a second thought. We hope this situation and our story about it can serve as a reminder to consider the potential feelings of others.

And no one is trying to take the fun out of Halloween. Jack-o'-lanterns, witches, ghosts, skeletons, zombies, even severed heads, they’re all fair game to display. But just as we would hope no one is planning to go trick-or-treating in a Nazi uniform, we would hope anyone who has previously used decorations that incorporate symbols of hate to celebrate the season will pack them away forever.

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