New York Gov. David A. Paterson signed into law a bill that makes displaying a noose illegal. Nooses used as threats are now considered a felony crime punishable up to four years imprisonment. New York, where Paterson is the first African American governor, joins a handful of states looking to crack down on growing incidences of noose hangings.
“It is sad that in these modern times there remains a need to address the problem of individuals who use nooses as a means of threat and intimidation,” Paterson said in a statement. “But it is a reality, and if we ignore it, we would be derelict in our duty. The Legislature has given voice to the revulsion that such incidents inspire in all of us.”
Noose hangings have been widespread since last year’s Jena 6 incident in which six black teenagers in Jena, Louisiana were arrested and charged in the assault of a white teenager after numerous racial altercations, including the hanging of several nooses from a tree on school grounds. Since fall 2007, Newark, New Jersey-based publisher Diversity Inc. has recorded 78 noose incidents through its Noose Watch, which tracks cases reported to authorities across the country.
The heightened attention the noose has garnered since the Jena 6 case makes this an ideal time for legislators across the country to call for laws that recognize the act as a hate crime, says Louisiana State Rep. Rickey Hardy. He introduced a bill in March that would make displaying a noose a hate crime punishable in Louisiana by a fine of up to $15,000 and 15 years of prison “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Hardy says. “We cannot continue to promote racism in our own country.”
In Connecticut earlier this month, Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed into law a bill prohibiting the use of a noose for intimidation purposes, though the law allows its use in other cases, such as “in a Halloween display or a theatrical production,” according to a released statement.
“Connecticut simply will not tolerate bigotry or racism,” Rell said. “Let this bill send that message loud and clear. Using a noose—a symbol of the racially motivated lynchings during the late 19th and first half of the 20th century—to intimidate anyone because of their race or any other characteristic is a repugnant and cowardly act.”
The success that states are having passing anti-noose laws, as well as heightened media attention to such incidences are good signs that the country is ready to confront a symbol of its racist history, in particular the legacy of lynching, in which thousands of African Americans were hung, Hardy says. “Any type of crime toward one’s race, one’s sexual preference, creed or gender is a form of hate,” Hardy says. “We must do everything to eradicate hate crimes and violence.”