It’s All Just a Noose-ance


By: Warner Todd Huston

In case no one has noticed, it’s 2007, nearly 2008. The era in America when a noose was a clear and present threat to a black person in America has gone… thank God. So, why has an innocent sanitation worker in Muncie, Indiana been handed the longest suspension in the city’s history? Because he displayed a Halloween decoration.

Yes, the very social fabric of Muncie is threatened over a Halloween decoration.

There is no doubt that a noose is a touchy issue for the history of black America. I have always been haunted by photos of lynched blacks from the early and mid 1900′s in which grinning white children and matronly white mothers peer at the camera lens contentedly as a black man’s body dangles above them. The holiday atmosphere of those happy faces juxtaposed against the grisly crime that brought them together angers and saddens me. And even more haunting to me is that I was alive in that time it not being one of hundreds of years past. But I will not say anything like “let us hope we learned our lesson” and at last arrived at an era where such a thing as a lynching would never happen. I won’t say “hope” because we have learned that lesson. We have arrived at a day when Americans into the 90th percentile would be so repulsed by the thought of lynching a black man merely for being black that such a crime would be far outside the realm of the probable — the fact of man’s inhumanity against man set aside as taken for granted.

But, common sense, fairness, and intelligence are rarely the hallmarks of government as the officious oafs in Muncie have well proven.

Ghosties, ghouls, zombies and Frankensteins have been hung from nooses as a Halloween decoration for decades, so, while a noose may not be the first thing one thinks of when Halloween decor is discussed, it certainly isn’t altogether an uncommon vestige of the holiday. Just this week when I took my 11-year-old to a Halloween store for his little costume I saw a plastic figure of a man, tongue hanging and face whitened, hanging near the counter. It was for sale as a decoration.

Now, as it occurs, a sanitation worker in Muncie decided to get into the spirit of the celebration by hanging a small noose inside the cab from the rearview mirror of his truck.

Afterwards, a few of his black co-workers questioned their bosses in the city about the display wondering what the noose meant. An inquiry was held and it was determined that the fellow, a well-liked man, meant no harm and never thought of his decoration as a racist statement.

Bill Smith, interim administrator of the sanitary district, is reported as having said that the worker “…just loves Halloween,” and that “We’re pretty well convinced this was not racially motivated.” Barnell Vance, a black co-worker, said of the accused man, “He’s always been a good dude.” In fact, fourteen of the suspended man’s co-workers, many of them black, came to his defense asking the city to be lenient on their well liked friend and insisting that the man not a racist.

So what happened?

The Halloween decoration resulted in a 30-day suspension without pay and mandatory sensitivity training. The suspension is the longest suspension handed out to a Muncie sanitary worker, according to Bill Smith. More ridiculously, the man is being forced to apologize for something he didn’t even do, which was make a racist statement.

Who is really wrong here? Where is the real crime? The City of Muncie shoulders the blame for taking a simple misunderstanding and turning it into a miscarriage of justice. An intelligent person, a fair person, a person with common sense would have asked the man to take down the noose and told him to try some other decoration — maybe a nice werewolf, or a skull. There the matter would have ended for someone with a lick of brains.

But not for the City of Muncie for it appears that it specializes in wild overreaction and stupidity. The crime here is that a man who everyone says meant no disrespect by his hapless decoration is being treated more harshly than any other worker ever has (short of being fired).

In fact, the whole incident undermines the seriousness of the noose as a symbol of hate by trivializing it entirely. The foolishness of political correctness reduces real hate, real intentions to a perfunctory reaction that results in an unthinking consideration of the issues. Not only that but it absolves any official entity, whether it be a school, a city or a place of business, from making an informed, adult decision about any particular situation. Any automatic, blanket penalty eliminates the need to investigate and assess the facts of a situation and to arrive at a real and conscionable decision. In the end, silly decisions like this makes the “rules” little else but a laughingstock, not to be taken seriously and it trivializes serious matters like racism.

The City of Muncie should reverse this foolish decision. But their knee-jerk reaction isn’t uncommon in society today. It is mirrored in school kids with good grades being suspended from school for a year for having a plastic butter knife or a nail file, it is equaled by the unthinking action of a police force automatically giving traffic tickets to both parties in a car accident so that the police don’t have to be responsible for assessing blame on the scene. It is evinced in the fact that people would rather throw up their hands and just “hang them all” just to avoid being sued because they took responsibility. Zero tolerance is a concept that trivializes authority.

It’s no wonder why no one seems to respect the rule of law or societal mores any more. After all, we are all seemingly ruled by capriciousness instead of seriousness. And, if I may appropriate a saying, far from solving a problem, Muncie has hung itself on its own petard. And the PCism that they succumbed to undermines our society.

I would like to close with an admonition from our second President and one of our most brilliant Founders, John Adams:

“It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue.”

Peans to PCism is no substitute for elevating the mind. Adams would be ashamed.

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