For a brief history on nooses, lynching and hate crimes, as well as the impact still being felt today, please click here.
Community members plan to gather at 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. every weekday through June 8 at Haven Middle School to support Black students and Black teachers following a recent disturbing incident where three nooses were found hung outside the school.
Parents at the school organized these efforts and encouraged community members to attend the Monday, May 23, school board meeting, which drew a crowd of students, parents and educators who denounced the incident and discussed the racism people have experienced in Evanston.
The appearance of the nooses has sparked outrage and reports in the media, bringing various groups to Haven to protest or speak out against the act or to downplay it. The Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change (ECCSC), a Chicago-based social justice organization, came to Haven to support the students and teachers, chanting, “Silence is violence.” Led by founder Tyrone Muhammad, the group also showed up at the City Council meeting to address the issues during the public comment period, with Muhammad telling Mayor Daniel Biss he was disappointed in him.
Several current and former Haven students spoke up during public comment session of the District 65 board meeting to demand more information about the nooses, which were discovered on May 13, the same day Haven students led a protest against involuntary teacher transfers.
Shannon Watson, the mother of a Black Haven student, said she was outraged to hear about the nooses. She said it traumatized the entire student community, and her son is still trying to digest what happened at his school.
“We all know the history of a noose, which is derived from origins of American lynchings,” Watson said. “So when that noose was hung, it was very intentional and used as a threat for our Black community.”
Several current and former Haven students also spoke up during the meeting’s public comment session, demanding more information on the nooses, which were found May 13, the same day Haven students led a protest against involuntary teacher transfers.
“Us not being updated communicates that no repercussions are being given,” said Devon Cravens, an eighth-grader at Haven who is on the City of Evanston Youth Advisory Committee.
“We have been investigating since May 13, as well as EPD [Evanston Police Department],” said District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton, addressing the concerns. “There are a lot of things that we cannot share. .. We cannot make a statement. But just know we’re not sitting back and allowing this to rest and not be addressed.”
In response to RoundTable inquiries Tuesday via email, Evanston Police Commander Ryan Glew wrote: “There are no arrests at this time.The investigation is active and ongoing. Part of the investigation is determining if the elements of a hate crime are met. We continue to work cooperatively with District 65. This includes requesting, and awaiting receipt of, information necessary to our investigation.”
Students speak out
Before the protest, several fights at the middle school sparked outrage and fear, Cravens said during Monday’s comment time. But while the person (or persons) responsible for the nooses have not been punished publicly, Black students who got into fights over the nooses faced immediate repercussions.
Cravens said white parents have described the children using words such as “repeat offenders” and “those people.” It was his opinion that instead of being suspended, the 13- and 14-year-olds who fought needed to be given reasonable punishments while receiving the resources they need.
Olivia Ohlson, an Evanston Township High School freshman and former Haven student, said she found the middle school to be extremely segregated. Ohlson said she feels she is being listened to more by Horton than by the previous board but the community still deserves a response from the administration and the board regarding the nooses.
“The mission of D65 is not every parent, every day, whatever it takes. It is not every teacher, every day, whatever it takes. It’s not every administrator, every day, whatever it takes. It’s not every school board member, every day, whatever it takes,” said Ohlson. “It’s every child, every day, whatever it takes.”
Board member: ‘This community is racist’
Several District 65 board members spoke before students and parents and talked about what a serious incident of this magnitude signifies to and about the community. “This community is racist,” said Board Member Marquise Weatherspoon. “Our children are not safe here.”
She reminded the audience that on May 13, the superintendent and other Black board members also saw the nooses and have to deal with the emotional impact, asking everyone at the meeting and in the community to consider what that felt like.
Board Member Anya Tanyavutti said Black people employed by the district do this work because they love their families and they do not deserve a “side of death threats.”
Board Member Joseph Hailpern emphasized what many of the audience members said during public comment: The nooses were not accidentally. They are a tool to strike fear in the hearts of Black people.
Board Member Soo La Kim asked the audience to consider how a silent, peaceful protest in support of teachers could devolve into such ugliness.
Kim pointed to some recent moments that she said carried racist undertones. She asked the crowd to recall the recent fights among Haven students, and how they have been framed as assaults against teachers. Parents have even demanded that security guards be assigned to the school, she added.
Kim said a parent emailed the school board asking them to stop sending “useless” emails about Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ week, and to instead focus on students’ safety.
After being swamped with angry emails about the Haven fights, she said board members have noted silence from some parts of the community after the discovery of the nooses.
“This is not the time to deflect, deny or distance ourselves from this act,” said Kim. “It came from within our community, and it absolutely violated the safety of our Black community, our neighbors and friends, family.”
Board President Sergio Hernandez said it has been one of the most difficult months of his professional career.
The significance of nooses
Extensive studies on lynching have been produced by historians and academics as well as the NAACP and the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that founded The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Ala., dedicated to chronicling the terror of enslaved people and documenting 4,084 lynchings. It is presumed the number is an undercount and there may well many more lynchings of which no documentation exist.
While this is historical, scholars have found that the impact is still strong today.
“Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today,” reads the introduction to an extensive report by the Equal Justice Initiative. “Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America,”
The report continues that while lynchings were most prevalent in the South, the organization “has documented more than 300 racial terror lynchings of Black people that took place in other parts of the United States during the same period. The vast majority of these 341 lynchings were concentrated in eight states: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.”
The building blocks of white supremacy discussed
Board member Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan shared a visual she created to show the building blocks of white supremacy in undermining Black leadership in District 65.
Reading the visual from bottom to top, Lindsay-Ryan said that the process begins with the hiring of a Black leader. This is followed by an initial feeling of discomfort by white community members, who then magnify small mistakes made by the leader, Lindsay-Ryan said.
Community members start making demands, and when they are not met, they begin working around the leader, she said. “This often includes an attempt to partner with people of color so that the attacks on Black leaders will not be seen as racist,” Lindsay-Ryan said, drawing applause and cheers from the audience.
Community members continue to attack leaders, and, eventually, students are influenced by the adults around them, Lindsay-Ryan said. These sentiments lead to white rage, which results in death threats and hate crimes, she said.
Lindsay-Ryan said that Black leaders have been trying to call attention to the pattern for years, but have been dismissed. Lindsay-Ryan urged parents to consider how they might be participating in this pattern.
“We keep underestimating our own socialization and white supremacy and overestimating our ability to rise above the ways we have been taught to maintain white power and control,” she said.
At the meeting, Horton said that he hopes to see a similar turnout at meetings that discuss student achievement, educator improvement and district reform.
Horton said, “Don’t just show up when things get bad.”