In response to nooses found at several locations in the District over the past week, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced that the city would be using a “hate crimes protocol” to combat the problem.
“We are an inclusive city, and we do not tolerate signs of hate, ignorance, and fear,” Bowser (D) said in a statement released Saturday. “I have directed . . . the Office of Human Rights to activate our hate crimes protocol.”
I’d heard about response protocols for things like anthrax attacks and “active shooter” situations. But a protocol for an outbreak of nooses, that was new. What were black people supposed to do — shelter in place?
“We encourage the public to report any compromised property, act of violence, or symbols or signage that put communities at risk, by calling 911,” Stephanie Franklin, director of policy and communications for the D.C. Office of Human Rights, wrote to me in an email. “There is no instance too big or small for 911. All follow-up measures and direct action stems from that call, so please do not be afraid to use it.”
I have a better idea: If you find a noose in your neighborhood, like the one at a house being renovated in Southeast Washington, remove it. Tell your neighbors to keep an eye out for vandals. No need for special hate crime protocols, prayer vigils or news conferences. Just be prepared.
If your school gets a black student-body president, a noose will go up. If you try to bring down a Confederate statue, a noose will go up. Count on it.
Two nooses were found — one near the Hirshhorn Museum and the other inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall. Apparently, not a lot of people knew what a noose hanging outside a museum of modern art was meant to symbolize, so that didn’t get much attention.
But when a noose was found on the floor of the black history museum, there was no doubt about the meaning: It was a message of hate aimed at intimidating visitors.
I asked the Park Police to see any video as well as any photos of the noose.
They declined, citing the ongoing investigation. Same with the D.C. police.
Earlier this year, a noose was found in a Metro employees’ break room. There were reports of outrage and promises of a thorough investigation. Months passed. Nothing. On Monday, I asked Metro Transit Police if anyone had ever been caught. The answer: No. And the investigation has been closed.
With rare exceptions, that’s how it goes — until the next noose is found.
“Who would have thought in 2017 that I would be talking to you about a noose in an African American history museum or a noose in Hillcrest?” Bowser asked the crowd of about 100 who gathered at the Hillcrest Recreation Center on Saturday, not far from where the third noose was found. “Unfortunately over the last year, we have seen a rise in both hateful speech, hateful rhetoric and real hate crimes.”
Over the past year? I reviewed stories about noose incidents going back to the 1970s before starting to yawn.
The nooses have always been there and will be for years to come.
All the bravado about special noose-stopping protocols and promises to catch the vandals have just become part of a very predictable play. A noose is discovered. People are outraged. Protests are held. A culprit is seldom found. People forget. Then, repeat.
To those who genuinely feel intimidated or discouraged, remember this: Just because someone hangs up a noose doesn’t mean you must slip it over your head. It’s not meant for you unless you think it is. That’s how the noose works — the more you pull on it, the tighter it becomes.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.