Berkeley police confirmed that an effigy of an African-American was indeed hung on campus on Sather Gate Saturday morning. The display appeared roughly three hours before a #BlackLivesMatter rally and march scheduled to commence. Claire Holmes, university spokeswoman, said two more effigies depicting lynching victims were found around the Campanile Tower by campus police. Some had writing on them including “put your hands up” and “I can’t breathe,” Eric Garner’s last words, she said. Two of the effigies were men and the third a woman.
No suspects have been taken into custody for stringing up the effigy. The intent of the callous display was not clear. Speculation arose that it was related to recent protests against police brutality in Ferguson and around the country or that it could be something that was racially motivated. Police were searching the campus to see if another effigy was erected.
The Way Christian Center pastor, Michael McBride, tweeted a picture of the effigy that hung from Sather Gate after a student in his flock sent it to him. The pastor said a total of three effigies were found and police promptly took down two of them. The third was reportedly taken down by students. McBride was unsure of the intentions, stating the possibility of it being an art protest. He sat down with students and talked them through the occurrence.
The life-sized effigies bore the names of people who were lynched along with the date of their deaths. Due to the anonymity of the act, no one was sure the intentions behind the act, said Holmes and McBride.
One effigy was of eastern Oklahoman, Laura Nelson. According to the Los Angeles Times’ article published in 2000, Nelson was brutally raped and hanged on a bridge next to her son in 1911. He had been accused of allegedly shooting the sheriff.
Berkeley’s African-American studies’ associate professor, Leigh Raiford, saw the pictures on Twitter of the effigy hung on campus and drew a different conclusion. To Raiford, the display was symbolic of the historical connection between state violence against African-Americans and the history of lynching. She tweeted several pictures of “protest art” repurposing lynchings to make the comparison.
Organizers of the protest at Berkeley were also in the dark as to the culprit’s identity and their motivation. Spencer Pritchard, 21, hoped that it was just someone wanting to bring attention to the social issues plaguing the country. Roughly 200 protestors showed up for the protest at Berkeley with the intentions of shutting down business as usual to show that black lives do matter. Pritchard said that majority of the protesters at Berkeley were planning on going to another demonstration in Oakland at 2 pm PST to protest police brutality. Similar protests were scheduled for that same time around the country for the Millions March campaign denouncing police brutality.
According to Holmes, Berkeley campus police were investigating the hanging of the African-American effigy. She stated that if the act was racially motivated than it would not be tolerated and the individual or individuals would face criminal charges. Campus officials were in talks with students and the student affairs vice-chancellor would be working with the students over the course of the next several weeks to help process the incident. Holmes requested that anyone with information about the controversial act to call the campus police.
By Stevenson Benoit
Photo by mlhradio – Flickr License