Posted Feb. 7, 2008 - Last year, as the nation began seriously pondering the likelihood of electing its first Black president, incidents of racism were steadily rising from coast to coast.
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In fact, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of racial harassment complaints – filed during a period that included the “Jena Six” debacle and the resultant noose epidemic – shot up 24 percent, USA Today reports.
But the spike in hate offenses were met with efforts by city officials and state legislators to make it a crime to intimidate someone with a noose. At the federal level, the U.S. Justice Department recently indicted a Louisiana teen on hate crime charges for displaying a noose on his pickup truck as a jab at demonstrators in Jena, La., rally on Sept. 20.
“Nooses are more prevalent,” EEOC chairwoman Naomi Earp told USA Today. “The noose has replaced the ‘N’-word … as the choice if you want to threaten or intimidate someone.”
In 2006, the commission, which investigates discrimination in the workplace, logged 5,646 harassment complaints; a year later, that number grew to 6,977, according to the newspaper. The 2007 figure is twice what it was in 1991.
The EEOC has not researched the increase in hate crimes, but 70 nooses have been hung across the country since 20,000 marchers descended on Jena, La., to protest the seemingly harsh prosecution of six African-American males accused of beating a White classmate, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center told USA Today.
In the nation’s capital Tuesday, City Councilman Kwame Brown introduced an anti-noose bill. “The noose has been out of control in the country,” says Brown. “At some point, America needs to send the message that this will not be tolerated. It’s not a joke.”
But Susan Goering, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland, argues that it is even more important to protect freedom of expression, even if that expression is offensive to some. Goering, who helped write Maryland’s noose legislation, says such laws can be crafted to be constitutional if they make it a crime to trespass on private property.
“Hanging a noose is an expression of opinion that amounts to free speech, and it’s a problem to criminalize free speech,” Goering says. “No one is protected by an unconstitutional law.”
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