Politics & Government

Florida state lawmakers want to ban public display of noose

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The picture, spread virally on the Web, was the last straw for state Sen. Frederica Wilson. It showed a man posing in front of the White House with a noose wrapped around an American flag.

"Some people think of it as a harmless prank, but the noose is a sign of hate and deeply offensive to African-American people," said Wilson, a Miami Democrat. "It is wrong. And it needs to be stopped."

Wilson on Tuesday presented a bill to a Senate committee that would make it illegal to display a noose in public if it threatens or intimidates. The proposed law would not apply to those who consent to having a noose on their property.

The bill, which is also being pushed by Tamarac Democrat Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, will likely face First Amendment questions, and then must capture the attention of a Legislature focused more on dollars and cents than moral issues.

"We're going to deal with the budget because that's what we have to do," Wilson said. "But there are other concerns that don't cost money and if it's something we can fix, we should fix it."

A number of states, from New York to Louisiana, have enacted similar bills to help tackle the issue.

According to Mark Potok, who directs a project at the Southern Poverty Law Center that monitors hate groups, the organization tracked at least five times as many appearances of the noose in 2007 than the year before.

He first noted the rise after the infamous Jena Six affair in Louisiana. Racial tensions erupted there at a local high school when a black student asked whether he could sit under a tree that was a meeting place for his white classmates, only to see a noose hanging from the tree later.

Other reports followed the election of the country's first black president, including at a Fort Lauderdale mechanics shop last week.

"The noose has become a real symbol of racial terrorism," Potok said.

Read more of this story at MiamiHerald.com