Thursday, October 30, 2008

More Liberal Compassion, Part II: Compare and Contrast

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - University of Kentucky authorities were investigating Wednesday who hanged an effigy of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama from a tree on campus.

College spokesman Carl Nathe said the effigy was found Wednesday morning. Police immediately took it down. A faculty member said he saw the effigy with a noose around its neck, hanging from a high tree branch.

University President Lee Todd said he planned to apologize to the Obama family on behalf of the school and that he is "personally offended and deeply embarrassed by this disgusting episode."

Federal authorities have been notified, Todd said. He said the effigy violates the university's code of ethics and won't be tolerated.

"I am outraged because we work very hard, every day, to build bridges across the divides," Todd said. "Diversity and inclusion are among our most precious core values. Episodes like this serve only to erode our confidence in and respect for one another."

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan declined to comment specifically on the situation, but said an effigy can suggest a threatening tone or be an attempt to intimidate. He said the agency is "very proactive about addressing these matters."

At the University of Kentucky, Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center interim director Chester Grundy said he was outraged by the incident. A rally was being planned for 7 p.m. EDT Wednesday, where staff and student leaders are expected to speak in response, he said.

Gov. Steve Beshear called the incident "embarrassing" and "deeply offensive."

"This was not political speech. It was simply hate," he said.

Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville chapter of the NAACP, said he is still trying to sort out his feelings "because there may be a double-meaning because Barack Obama is black, that he would be hung from a tree—that goes back to lynching."

John Johnson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, called the action unacceptable even if it was a prank.

"It's astonishing that somebody would do that at this day and time," he said. "You would hope that our country has progressed further than that."

* * *

Despite cries from some community residents for a hate-crime probe, the FBI and local police say they will not investigate an effigy of Sarah Palin hanging from a noose in West Hollywood, Calif., because it's part of a Halloween display.

"It's clearly distasteful, but it doesn't appear to be a violation of federal civil rights statutes," Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman with the FBI in Los Angeles, told in an e-mail. "Currently, we do not have an investigation open."

Los Angeles sheriffs said they are not treating the exhibit as an act of discrimination.

"I'm not defending this; I'm not criticizing it. It doesn't rise to the level of hate crime," Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore told The Los Angeles Times. "Now, if there was a crime against bad taste ..."

The U.S. Secret Service wouldn't comment on whether it was looking into this matter specifically, but it suggested it investigates all such incidents as potential threats.

"An exhibited or stated unusual direction of interest in a protectee could be indicative of threatening behavior," spokesman Ed Donovan told "We take threats against protectees very seriously."

Donovan said the Secret Service tries to determine the motive behind displays like the one in California.

"These effigies or other similar visual presentations could ... be an intent to intimidate people," he said. "Through interviews or further investigation, when they're brought to our attention, we're proactive in addressing these matters."

Whitmore said he visited the house where the effigy is displayed on Tuesday morning to get a look at it -- a mannequin wearing "Palin-style" glasses, a brown beehive wig and a red coat, dangling by a thick white rope coiled around its neck.

Sheriffs have gotten between five and 10 angry phone calls from residents who say they're offended by the Halloween lawn exhibit, Sgt. Kristin Aloma of the L.A. Sheriff's Department's West Hollywood unit told the Times.

Authorities are keeping an eye on the neighborhood and the house, she added.

The mayor of West Hollywood, meanwhile, wants the mannequin taken down.

"While these residents have the legal right to display Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin in effigy, I strongly oppose political speech that references violence -- real or perceived," Mayor Jeffrey Prang said in a prepared statement.

"I urge these residents to take down their display and find more constructive ways to express their opinion."


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