Mississippi noose hung before Cindy Hyde-Smith election produces no charges

Mississippi noose hung before Cindy Hyde-Smith election produces no charges


JACKSON, Mississippi — History surrounds the Capitol building in the heart of downtown here, but not all of it is welcoming.

In the park behind the building is a massive granite slab carved with the Confederacy’s battle flag emblem and praising the women — mothers, wives, daughters and sisters — whose “zealous faith in our cause” did so much in the Civil War.

And for one morning last month, on Nov. 26, the park’s oak trees also had nooses, two menacing talismans bringing Mississippi’s dark past to the forefront, a day before the state was poised to vote in a runoff election for a U.S. Senate seat.

The nooses sparked headlines from the U.S. to Ireland to Japan, with American cable television news networks, in particular, suggesting they were the latest race-tinged outrage meant to affect black voters.

Authorities vowed swift investigation to find the culprit.

“We are actively looking into these acts of hate and intimidation,” U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst said at the time. “If we find evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that a federal crime has occurred, these criminals will be swiftly prosecuted.”

Weeks later, however, no one has been arrested for the incident, let alone prosecuted. Officials with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations report nothing daily, a spokeswoman for Mr. Hurst’s office seemed unfamiliar with the incident, and the FBI declined to comment.

Judging by the handwritten signs scattered below the nooses, it’s possible they were meant less as intimidation and more as a rallying cry — an indictment of Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

During a Nov. 2 appearance with a small crown in Tupelo, the senator, while accepting a future speaking engagement proffered by a supporter, said if he “invited me to a public hanging I would be in the front row.”

Those comments also earned national headlines — and may have been the impetus for the nooses.

“We’re hanging nooses to remind people that times haven’t changed,” read one of the signs with the nooses.

In a 2014 case involving public nooses, drunk fraternity men at the University of Mississippi disgraced themselves and a campus statue of James Meredith, the first African-American to enroll at Ole Miss, by putting a noose on it with the Georgia state flag, which then included the Confederacy’s stars and bars.

Federal officials were relentless. Three students were arrested and in September 2015, one of them was given prison time after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of “using a threat of force to intimidate.” A second student pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in March 2016.

November’s incident, on the other hand, seems forgotten and residents expressed doubt anyone would ever pay for it.

“That’s not going to happen here,” said Jackie Abron, 46, who works security along President Street on the park’s eastern edge. She said she saw the signs that morning but not the nooses.

Ms. Abron, with two other African-American women around the park, said they weren’t afraid of the nooses, and they scoffed at the stereotype that such hateful displays are typical of Mississippi.

But they are understandably upset at people escaping any penalty for the act.

“It’s kind of shocking and it’s disheartening these things are still going on,” said Francine Towns, 70, who works at the Marriott Hotel a couple of blocks away from the capitol. “If no one does anything about it, I have a problem with that because if nothing is being done about it then it must be acceptable behavior.”

Ms. Towns said she would like to see the perpetrators identified and punished, although she’s skeptical that will happen here.

“But I don’t think the God I serve has a white section and a black section in heaven and I’m grateful for that,” she said.

It’s not clear if investigators have developed any leads. While security cameras aren’t visible in the trees, a security detail by the governor’s entrance behind the Capitol said the grounds are under taped surveillance.

No group has claimed responsibility, and some see the intent as a significant difference compared with other incidents.

“The story that ought to be is one that gives people pause about what Hyde-Smith said,” said Douglas Bristol, a history professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Mr. Bristol pointed out that the last legal public hanging was held in Mississippi in 1940, before Ms. Hyde-Smith was born, and thus her reference to one could hardly be construed to refer to some lawful execution.

Ms. Hyde-Smith won her re-election bid — and Ms. Towns and Ms. Abron seemed certain the noose probe is about as done as the election.

“They say they’re investigating this but they’re not,” Ms. Abron said. “Things like this are like potholes: they tell us they’re fixing them, but we’re still driving over them.”

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