OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Police in Oakland opened an investigation Thursday after a caller reported finding an effigy hanging from a tree at a city park, a day after the mayor said “nooses” were found dangling from trees in the same park.
A city resident, who is black, stepped forward Wednesday to say the ropes hanging from trees around Lake Merritt were not symbols of hate but used for exercise. Police quoted a resident saying he put them up months ago.
On Thursday, Oakland police said that a caller reported finding a “fake body hanging from a noose” in the same area, which the caller said they had taken down.
When officers and a supervisor arrived at the scene, they found “material stuffed in the shape of a human body with a rope tied around the torso and neck, laying on the ground next to a tree with an American flag lying next to it,” Oakland police said in a statement.
The FBI’s San Francisco Division said it was aware of the incident and was in touch with the Oakland police.
“If, in the course of the local investigation, information comes to light indicating a potential federal civil rights violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate,” the agency said in a statement.
In a tweet Thursday afternoon, Schaaf called the effigy “a deliberate and vile attempt to traumatize and divide Oaklanders.”
The discovery came a day after Oakland officials said they found five knotted ropes hanging from trees that Schaaf described as “nooses” and “terrorizing symbols.”
The policed department said Thursday that both incidents were being investigated as hate crimes.
The police characterization of the ropes has shifted. On Wednesday, they said in a statement that officers went to Lake Merritt to investigate a social media post that “identified a rope as a noose” but upon searching they found “five ropes attached to various trees.”
Police released five photographs of trees that showed knotted ropes and one that appeared to have a piece of plastic pipe attached hanging from tree limbs.
Oakland resident Victor Sengbe, who is black, said the ropes were part of a rigging that he and his friends used for a larger swing system. He also shared video of the swing in use.
He told KGO-TV it was “unfortunate that a genuine gesture of just wanting to have a good time got misinterpreted into something so heinous.”
In their Thursday statement, Oakland police said they were working in consultation with the FBI to “identify who is responsible for today’s incident and the noose incident.”
City officials “understand the historical and harmful associations of ropes, nooses, and effigies attached to trees, limbs, or other objects that are often associated with hate crimes and racial violence,” the police statement said. “We recognize that especially at this time, any symbolic messages such as these incidents frighten and harm our communities.”