Neighbors angry over Obama yard display, resident denies responsibility


by Staff

Posted on October 31, 2012 at 9:07 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 31 at 11:00 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The President Obama scarecrow with a noose around its neck and the rope hanging from a tree has neighbors in Plaza Midwood buzzing, but a resident of the home says that he and his roommate are not responsible for it.

The man says he hosted a party at his home on Saturday and the scarecrow's head was nothing more than a pumpkin until someone replaced it with the president’s picture after he went inside for the night.

The next day, the man left and didn't realize President Obama's picture was on the scarecrow until the media coverage began.

He removed the display Wednesday morning.

Jon Gunn has lived in Plaza Midwood for 15 years. He's a fan of decorating his home for Halloween, but said the display that popped up in his neighbor's yard a few days ago is unacceptable.

"I just found it really offensive," said Gunn.

"No matter your political persuasion, this is just way over the edge of good taste," said Gunn. "I think anyone would take offense to that because it represents lynching. And since it's the President, doubly so."

Gunn said, for him, it was even more upsetting because his children asked why the President was hanging from the neighbor's tree.

"Explaining lynching to an 11 and 9-year-old was something we just didn't expect to be doing that at that age. This shouldn't be what prompts us to talk to our kids about this," he said.

The display was is in the backyard, not front. It was is visible from a public access point into the neighborhood.

Gunn said it is about more than politics.

"At some point you say, 'It's an election. I vote. I volunteer. I certainly don't put out a replica of the President with a noose around his neck.'"

For now, Gunn said he will take a page from President Obama and try to use this as a teachable moment for his children.

"I guess it sort of drives the point home that, here's the history of this, you're seeing it. Potentially racism is alive and you shouldn't ignore it if you see it," he said.

Lynching has ties to the south as well as North Carolina.  According to the Tuskeegee Institute, 4,700 people died from lynching between 1882 and 1968.  70 percent of them were black.

“People don’t know there was a reign of terror in the south-- the African American males being lynched, often for political purposes. So when somebody creates a picture like they created, they’re tapping into a legacy of terror that is just under the surface in American history,” said Dr. Tom Hanchett with the Levine Museum of the New South.  The museum’s current exhibit, Without Sanctuary, details lynching.

Many viewers have asked if this is simply a person exercising their First Amendment rights or a threat against the President. NBC Charlotte contacted the Secret Service who said they were aware of the display and will contact the resident to determine intent. While the Secret Service respects the right to freedom of speech, they said effigies and visual presentations that denote a threatening tone do prompt a response.

Secret Service officials say similar Halloween effigies have recently popped up across the United States in Indiana, Utah and California.

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