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U.S. Mint needs to punish noose-making employee

What made a white worker think it was OK to make a hangman's noose and allegedly walk it over to an African American colleague at the U.S. Mint?

Hands holding rope slipknot in concept suicide
Hands holding rope slipknot in concept suicideRead moreistock

I can't help but wonder about the U.S. Mint employee who allegedly took a rope and fashioned it into a noose.

What made a white worker think it was OK to make a hangman's noose and walk it over to an African American colleague, as has been reported in Wednesday's New York Times?  It was an unbelievably offensive thing to do. But it's something that's happening more and more.

"It's happening now because people in power have given other people permission to be hateful," explained Jack Shuler, author of  The Thirteenth Turn: A History of the Noose. These incidents are  "happening in schools, they're happening in neighborhoods, and a lot of them are happening in the workplace."

Shuler, who also teaches black studies at Ohio's Denison University, has a Google alert set to inform him of noose incidents around the country and is disturbed at the number he gets.

"The noose has become the new burning cross,"  he said.

In the Mint incident, the rope that was fashioned into the hangman's knot was supposed to be used to seal coin bags, according to the Times report. The allegation is under investigation.

I reached out to Mint officials Wednesday who emailed this response: "We have absolutely zero tolerance for the kind of misconduct reported at the Mint. Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin has directed that this matter be handled swiftly and seriously. The investigation is moving ahead quickly."

Let's hope. There needs to be zero tolerance for this kind of  racial harassment. And that's exactly what it is. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks incidents of this kind, reports an uptick since the 2016 presidential election.

I get the sense that  these incidents are not being carried out just by old guys still upset that the South lost the Civil War.  On April 27, a noose was found inside a fraternity house at the University of Maryland.

Several days later, on May 1 at nearby American University, bananas were found hanging inside nooses following the election of the first black female head of the school's student government. The letters AKA, the initials of a predominantly black sorority, were clearly marked on the fruit.

Days later, another noose was spotted, this time at a middle school in Maryland.

Then, there were two highly publicized incidents on the National Mall. Authorities reported finding a noose hanging from a tree outside the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum on May 26.

A few days later, one was found inside an exhibit on segregation inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

But wait, there's more.  Just last month, authorities found a noose hanging from a home under construction in a predominantly black neighborhood,  not far from the Smithsonian buildings. Anti-hate activists report other noose sightings around the country.

How-to videos on noose-tying are readily available on YouTube. I shudder to think of the kinds of people who consult them and why.

People are sick with racism and hatred. But you  know what? This isn't the 1950s. You can't burn a cross on someone's lawn or hang a noose on campus and think it's going to be shrugged off.

That takes me back to that Mint employee, who reportedly was escorted from the building last week. I fully expect to hear that the guy thought he was being funny and making some sort of joke.

"Once someone has started going down the rabbit hole … they know what they're doing," said Ryan Lenz, a senior investigative writer for the Southern Poverty Law Center. "It isn't as if the message behind the noose is confusing."

If the report is true, I hope the Mint deals with the noose-making employee harshly.

As Shuler told me, "It's not a symbol of love and peace."