California police investigate reports of nooses in city park

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff gestures while speaking during a media conference on Wednesday, June 17, 2020, in Oakland, Calif. Schaff discussed the presence of ropes found at Lake Merritt.

-Ben Margot

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Oakland police say they found five ropes hanging from trees in a busy city park. The mayor referred to them as nooses Wednesday and said they were being investigated as a hate crime.

Acting in response to a social media post that identified a noose at the city’s popular Lake Merritt, officers searched the area Tuesday and found five ropes attached to trees, the Oakland Police Department said in a statement.

Victor Sengbe, who is black, told KGO-TV that he put the ropes up for exercise and for fun.

“Out of the dozen and hundreds and thousands of people that walked by, no one has thought that it looked anywhere close to a noose. … It was really a fun addition to the park that we tried to create,” Sengbe said.

“It’s unfortunate that a genuine gesture of just wanting to have a good time got misinterpreted into something so heinous," he told the station.

Police said several community members came forward during their initial investigation to say the ropes were used for exercise. They said a man came forward to say he put them up “several months ago."

The department said it is conducting a full investigation and had notified the FBI.

“We remind and ask our community to be mindful when using this equipment in a recreational manner. These acts may send an unintended message,” the police statement said. “We recognize especially at this time, that any ropes on or attached to trees, limbs or other objects can be associated with hate crimes and racial violence."

Mayor Libby Schaaf said officials “discovered nooses in roughly five different trees.” She said it doesn’t matter if the ropes were used for exercise.

“Intentions don’t matter,” Schaaf said. “It is incumbent on all of us to know the actual history of racial violence, of terrorism, that a noose represents and that we as a city must remove these terrorizing symbols from the public view.”

She said officials “have to start with the assumption that these are hate crimes. … If they are proven not to be, that will then exonerate that person.”

The police department provided five photographs of trees, some of which showed knotted ropes and one that appeared to have a piece of plastic pipe attached to a rope, hanging from tree limbs.

Nicholas Williams, the city’s director of parks recreation, called them “rope apparatuses" and said some of it“absolutely was not" exercise equipment.

“The symbolism of the rope hanging in the tree is malicious regardless of intent. It’s evil, and it symbolizes hatred," he said.

Police were not at the news conference with Schaaf. The police department did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday seeking more details about the ropes.

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