By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
mgray@afro.com

With countless examples of police brutality and killings, continued systemic racism and symbols of segregation being toppled and challenged by demonstrators around the United States, the opposition, angst and concern for Black lives continues to linger.  A rise in hangings in Texas, New York, and California have brought to the surface vestiges of a time when Black Americans were often reminded in no uncertain terms of the perils facing them after stepping out of line.

Burning crosses and nooses remain the two most prominent images of oppression that were designed to keep slaves in line. Thousands of Black Americans and their ancestors witnessed loved ones hanged in effigy to diffuse their thoughts of escaping plantations or opposing White supremacists even post slavery. Families have been awakened to the flaming images of burning crosses in their front yard to intimidate when moving into segregated neighborhoods or standing for equal rights. Given the fact these hate crimes went largely unprosecuted or the defendants were acquitted, those images continue to intimidate an entire culture.

(Photo by BortN66_Shutterstock)

Otis/ Titi Gulley, 31, a trans woman, was found hanging from a tree in Rocky Butte Park in Portland, Ore. on May 27, 2019, and while her death was ruled a suicide, many question the circumstances surrounding her ultimate demise and suspect foul play. Gulley’s story is all too familiar. 

On May 31, 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch, was found hanging from a tree on May 31 in Victorville, Calif., and his death was ruled a suicide. On June 9, Dominique Alexander, 27, was found hanging in Fort Tryon Park in Manhattan, and the New York City medical examiner’s office said it was suicide.The following day, in Palmdale, Calif., 24-year-old Robert Fuller was also discovered hanging from a tree.

The searing images of Black bodies hanging from trees have been detrimental to the psyche of Black America who continues to fight through the perception of equality that remains a fallacy for most. Despite seeing a Black president, and the images of successful professional athletes and entertainers the social scars remain. Nothing seems to bond African Americans of all socio-economic backgrounds like the disdain and fear of nooses, cross burnings and the confederate flag.

Often the justice system has been a coward in the face of hangings and reduced them to suicide. Since 2008, activist and theologian Ruby Sales told the {Washington Post} she has investigated at least eight instances of Black men and women who have died in custody from hangings in jail that were ruled as suicide. Sandra Bland, a name often referred to in the Black Lives Matter movement, after being unjustly arrested and jailed three days prior, was found hanging in her cell in July 2015. 

Even when the system can’t reduce an issue to suicde, the due diligence surrounding the noose and hangings is not always handled with the utmost care. The symbol of a noose left in NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s garage, after he chose to take a stand against the Confederate flag flying at its events, sent chills through the sports world and has rekindled memories of what would be considered to be a bygone era.   However, the FBI’s investigation ruled there was no evidence anyone from NASCAR was involved in leaving the noose, which had reportedly been left in his garage last October.

Choking the life of a human being – as the video of Floyd’s death shows – has a historic reverberation that still resonates. Fear and angst remain and so do public lynchings of many forms- sometimes by those wearing blue- while the justice system’s prosecutorial record continues to be checkered at best.