Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Feb 12, 4:53 PM EST
Bush calls noose displays 'deeply offensive
By DEB RIECHMANN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush said Tuesday that recent displays of nooses are disturbing and indicate that some Americans may be losing sight of the suffering that blacks have endured across the nation.
"The era of rampant lynching is a shameful chapter in American history," Bush said at a black history month event at the White House, which began with serious comments about prejudice and ended with music performed by The Temptations.
"The noose is not a symbol of prairie justice, but of gross injustice," the president said. "Displaying one is not a harmless prank. Lynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest."
As a civil society, Americans should agree that noose displays and lynching jokes are "deeply offensive," Bush said.
"They are wrong," the president said, referring to such displays and jokes. "And they have no place in America today."
For decades, the noose was a symbolic part of a campaign of violence, fear and intimidation against blacks, the president said. Sometimes, he added, it was orchestrated by the law enforcement officers charged with protecting them. Bush also said the noose was a tool for intimidation and killing that conveyed a sense of powerlessness to millions of blacks throughout the country.
"Fathers were dragged from their homes in the dark of night before the eyes of their terrified children," he said. "Summary executions were held by torchlight in front of hateful crowds. In many cases, law enforcement officers responsible for protecting the victims were complicit in their deaths."
The Justice Department says it is actively investigating a number of noose incidents at schools, work places and neighborhoods around the country.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who was at the White House, said he was pleased that Bush addressed the issue.
Sharpton helped organize a massive rally in September in Jena, La., to protest what marchers believed to be the unfair treatment of six black students charged with beating a white student at Jena High School. The beating came months after three other white students were suspended, but not criminally charged, for hanging nooses in a tree at the school.
"I am encouraged that the president addressed the issue that caused me to bring 30,000 marchers to Jena, Louisiana, in September and 50,000 marchers in front of the U.S. Department of Justice on November 16th," Sharpton said. He said he hoped the president has discussed specific legislation to address the rising tide of hate crimes and increasing displays of nooses.
The FBI reported in November that hate-crime incidents in the United States rose in 2006 by nearly 8 percent. Police across the nation reported 7,722 criminal incidents in 2006 targeting victims or property as a result of bias against a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic or national origin or physical or mental disability. That was up 7.8 percent from the 7,163 incidents reported in 2005.
At the event, Bush honored Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who was a leader of the civil rights movement and organized freedom rides, sit-ins and voter registration drives; and William Coleman, the first black American to be a clerk on the U.S. Supreme Court and who served as President Ford's transportation secretary. Coleman thus was the first black to hold a Cabinet post in a Republican administration.
Bush also recognized Ernest Green, one of the nine black students in Little Rock, Ark., who were escorted into the city's all-white Central High School following the historic Brown vs. Board of Education of the mid 1950s, and Otis Williams, a leader of the "The Temptations."
After the president's remarks, his podium was replaced with five microphones and the members of the group, sporting gray suits trimmed in black, got the packed East Room clapping in time to their music. By the end of the eighth tune, "My Girl," the group had the audience standing and singing along.
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