Authorities in Oakland, Calif. have launched a hate crime investigation into several apparent nooses found hanging from trees in the city this week, according to a report.
Five ropes were found on various trees around the area of Lake Merritt on Tuesday, and have since been removed, the Oakland Police Department said, according to CNN.
Extra patrols have also been assigned to the area, police said.
Porchia Freeman, who lives in the area, first spotted one swinging from a tree near the lake earlier that day. She stepped in closer to get a better look, and then recorded a video, posted to Facebook.
“I posted it because it was very disturbing to me and I thought I’d bring awareness to the situation,” she said during a Wednesday Facebook livestream.
But Freeman said a man reached out to her claiming the rope was left over from a swing he had hung on the tree.
A local resident also claimed during an initial investigation that he “intentionally placed” the ropes there “for exercise and games several months ago,” the police department told CNN.
But the city’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, said in a Twitter message Wednesday that “the intentions do not matter, because the harm is real.”
“They will matter with regard to whether this is in fact charged as a hate crime, but they do not matter about whether or not we should tolerate symbols of hate and violence and torture in our public spaces,” Schaaf said. “They do not have a place here in Oakland.”
“We have to start with the assumption that these are hate crimes,” she said. “We cannot take these actions lightly. These symbols are symbols of racial violence, and it’s incumbent on all of us to have that sensitivity, to have that knowledge. And that’s why I have directed our staff to remove any such symbol of hatred, regardless of the intention of what put it there.”
The incidents follow two hanging deaths of two black men in southern California that both local and federal agencies are investigating.
Robert Fuller, 24 was found hanging in a park near Palmdale City Hall early on June 10, and his death was originally declared an apparent suicide.
But on Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the death will be probed as a homicide and will be monitored by the California attorney general’s office and the FBI’s Civil Rights Division.
A week earlier, about 50 miles away in San Bernardino County, Malcolm Harsch, 38, was found hanging near the Victorville City Library.
Police originally said foul play was not suspected, but the man’s family questioned that narrative. They said people at the scene saw blood on Harsch’s shirt, he hadn’t seemed depressed and he had recent talks with his kids about seeing them soon.
Meanwhile, in New York, Dominique Alexander, 27, who was also black, was found hanging from a tree with a rope around his neck in Upper Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park around 6 a.m. on June 9, police said.
A week later, the city’s Office of the Medical Examiner ruled the death a suicide by hanging.