A noose hanging from a tree outside our Pittsburgh home is tied to a much larger problem

Dustin Gibson and Jamelia Morgan photographed outside their Regent Square home on Oct. 27, 2017. The couple found a black cord tied in the shape of a noose on a tree outside of their home on Oct. 24. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Last week, we received a death threat in the “most livable city in America.” It hung wrapped around a tree in front of our Regent Square home, visible from where we sit every day at our dining room table. The black cord was twisted into the shape of a killing device used to publicly hang the bodies of Black people for generations in this country.

While we are deeply in tune with the experiences of being Black in America, we were not prepared for an explicit sign of our imposed position in society to be delivered to our home.

Racialized symbols — the noose, the burning cross, the Confederate flag — are meant to display hatred and have the potential to instill fear in our communities. But perhaps the most sinister harm these symbols create is the one that makes us as Americans believe that nooses and burning crosses are the only evidence that racism was indeed "here." Though painful as they may be, symbols are incorporated into the culture through a series of individual acts, perpetrated by individuals or groups who ascribe to or are complicit in upholding white supremacy, and its most recent versions.

To focus on these individual acts, to reserve outrage for these clearest forms of racial bias, puts out of range the most damaging components of race and racism and how it operates in America both historically and today. If symbols are the only things that enrage us, we risk responding to the racist symbols only and we fail to respond in the fullest, most holistic way with an approach that acknowledges the complex roots of such hatred.

Pittsburgh is home to progressively gentrified neighborhoods with more Black Lives Matter signs than actual Black people. Tax-exempt statuses and social media prominence create an illusion of unity and progress, while many nonprofits have a model of advocacy that doesn’t require interaction between the advocates and the people who they’re purportedly advocating for. This perpetuates Pittsburgh’s social hierarchy and allows for “leaders” to be selected by the people they’re chasing, rather than the people who are following, which effectively confuses the concerns of people impacted by acts of hatred and bigotry that do not appear to be explicit.

Indeed, we are not the first residents of Pittsburgh to have experienced acts of racial intimidation. We are acutely aware of it as we both work actively to dismantle forms of systemic racism and oppression — one as a Black disabled community builder who works to undo ableism and racism and the other as a civil rights attorney working to end race- and class-based mass incarceration.

We have contacted both the FBI and the Pittsburgh police to initiate an investigation. At the same time, we live with the uncertainty of the manner in which this investigation will be treated by the very police force we have critiqued publicly.  Once again, this forces us and members of our communities to question the generosity that is absent until symbols of division appear, and contemplate how (or if) we can be protected.

Jamelia Morgan talks with Dustin Gibson in their Regent Square apartment on Oct. 27, 2017. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Law enforcement must approach these incidents with vigor and tenacity. Instead of capitalizing on an opportunity to garner support by making broad commitments to unity, public officials should work to undo the systems that acts of racial intimidation attempt to uphold. But it’s not just about public officials. These attempted acts of racial intimidation must concern all of us. They are evidence of racial divisions within our communities and must be rooted out like the cancerous hate they profess. So too must the other symbols of racism — systems which may not be so obvious, so jarring to the eye and human psyche. We must also work to end systems of racism as hard as we work to banish these symbols of racism and hate.

We must uproot a system of racism that has historically drawn redlines to prevent people of color from purchasing homes in livable areas and, today, forces low-income people of color out of their homes and communities, such as East Liberty, in the name of economic development.

We must uproot a system of racism that results in the disinvestment in public schools in areas such as the Hill District. The same system that disproportionately criminalizes Black students through the overuse of school suspensions and expulsions, creating a pipeline that funnels students, many of whom have disabilities, into jails and prisons.

We must uproot the system of racism pervading our legal system. We must recognize that communities of color are simultaneously overpoliced and underprotected. People of color are disproportionately more likely to be killed or injured in police interactions, are overrepresented in Allegheny County jail, and encounter racial profiling at every level of the legal system. We must work to improve police and community relations to ensure mutual respect and justice.

We must uproot the system of environmental racism physically rooted in land stolen from indigenous people and puts Black homes and low-income residents closer to lead-ridden water pipes and polluted air. We must recognize that the same environmental harms that inflict their communities will eventually result in the environmental degradation of our own.

Finally, we must recognize that the symbols of hate are only as effective as the systems that support them. Though what they represent may endure, their power and purpose are weakened by the resolve of communities who stand not only against these symbols but also the systems that sustain them.

Over the last few days, we have been overwhelmed and encouraged by the show of support and solidarity we have received by our friends, neighbors and fellow Pittsburgh residents. We are grateful to be surrounded by a community that is ready and willing to stand with us against hate.

We call on everyone to stand not only against these hateful symbols, but to stand up together with those who continue to fight tirelessly to ensure justice and equity for all Pittsburgh residents.

Jamelia Morgan is a staff attorney at the Abolitionist Law Center. She can be reached at jamelianatasha@gmail.com.

Dustin Gibson is the co-founder of Disability Advocates for Rights and Transition. He can be reached at dustinpgibson@gmail.com.

  • Adele Kassler

    Lots of poisonous trump-loving racist trolls on here, doing what they do best.

  • Barney

    I would not be surprised if, once again, this was proven to be a paid for agitator or Trump hater creating the hoax, once again, in order to create more division in America. My hunch is it is complete BS. Racism has diminished more and more over time. This is a simple sociological fact. The millennials don’t give 2 cents about what color someone is or their culture or whatever. Gen X doesn’t care about that either. So all this racist revival stuff is contrived nonsense. Sure, racism exists. It exists in every country in the world. But in America, the most diverse country in the world, differences are more accepted than anywhere else in the world. Period.

  • Bane

    Nice job, fellas. You guys have hoaxed hate crimes for so long, us white folk finally caught on. Nice noose, by the way.

    • Mike Novak

      You ‘white folks’ are a funny group. Well not funny at all. Pathetic mostly.

  • john

    No one is going to waste a perfectly good USB cable on two worthless liberal tax dollar thieves. This is one-hundred percent fake.

  • Neil Job

    Yep, same conclusion after reading their article, they hung the noose and then launched into a litany of “real” symbols

  • john

    I agree. Look at the pic of the woman. She looks like a trouble making BLM member. I’m almost positive they, or at least she, placed it there. Nice try BLM.

  • Iain MacAllester

    What do we know about nooses?

    That there have been more fake noose incidents than real ones.

  • drSteve78

    My empathy for what you’re going through, but it wasn’t from the Confederate flag, and it wasn’t from the South.

  • PJD1992

    “one as a Black disabled community builder who works to undo ableism and racism and the other as a civil rights attorney working to end race- and class-based mass incarceration.”
    – otherwise known as “NOT real jobs” or “completely fake jobs that are paid for with other people’s hard earned tax dollars”.

    Awesome! What SJW heroes! What an amazing coincidence that the two most diverse and useless left wing political hacks in the entire city happened to be “victims” of such an “offense” that is either totally fake or a Halloween prank. And how wonderful that the press release practically wrote itself. I am only curious as to exactly how stupid one must be in order to believe this idiotic story.

  • Joe

    100-1 odds this is a hoax perpetrated by the fake “victims”.

    • PJD1992

      I would go 10-1 odds but I am conservative that way!

    • Mike Novak

      You would like that to be true as it’s the only way to fit your simple and guided thought processes on the truth of this matter. Regurgitation isn’t a debate point. The only fake thing here is your conviction.

  • douginjax

    Sometimes a rope with a loop in it is just a rope with a loop in it. Sometimes its a lasso. Sometimes its a dog’s leash. And around Oct. 31 it might even be intended as a noose, which has been used to execute people for at least 3000 years.

    Was there anything at all, besides paranoia, that hints at this being an act of intimidation? Maybe it was in the article and I missed it?

    • PJD1992

      Suggesting rational thought instead of an unhinged emotionally reflexive victimhood response is probably a hate crime….

  • PJD1992

    There is an over 90% chance that this a hoax based on all historical evidence. As “victims” are highest saints of the liberal order, the unfortunate suspicion has to be that a left winger did this. Take a look at fakehatecrimes dot org or just read a newspaper after the ridiculous hype ends. It is almost always a fake hate crime. And as an aside the most recent FBI crime stats showed that a black man is 60 TIMES more likely to assault a white man as the is the opposite to occur. Do not believe me – look it up for yourself.

    440K assaults vs 58K in a country where blacks are 12% of the population. If you went to public school, the 4rd grade ratio mathematics involved here might be difficult so please do seek help in that regard. Now that is some information that is unlikely to be highlighted by the MSM anytime soon. Better to focus on anecdotal claims that are almost certainly false because they support a very left wing racist narrative.

  • thoughtdreams

    Fast facts:
    Democrats lynched about 5000 people after the Civil War, 99% of whom were Republicans. Most of those were freed Democrat slaves and their descendants, the rest Republicans of other skin colors. There were less than 50 cases of Democrats being lynched. Of course, lynchings almost completely disappeared once blacks started voting Democrat. Funny that.
    Historically, the Democrats used their KKK and lynchings to scare descendants of their slaves, and herd them back onto the plantation, this time to produce votes not cotton. This (not so) subtle warning to blacks is “Don’t think of straying off the plantation or the lynchings will resume”.

    But this incident is so laughably fake, and the “bitter scowl” look is so last decade, lol.

  • Johnny Thorne

    Hoax. Self-hating exhibitionists.

  • Randy Sargent

    I’m sorry for this evil act. Thank you for your article. Your words and efforts are more powerful than the hate. We stand with you. Together let us stand up and more quickly bend that arc towards justice.

    • douginjax

      So you did it? That is the only logical reason to apologize. OK then, case closed.

      • PJD1992

        You see, this guy is white, and white people must have done this, and therefore all white people bear some guilt for this supposed act, and thusly he apologizes. This is a whole lot of magical “thinking” and communal racial guilt all wrapped up around a likely fake hate crime. But what an opportunity for virtue signalling!

        • Mike Novak

          You’re just going to wear yourself out with your cyclical skewed logic. How many twists and turns did it take for your brain to come up with this ‘retort’? An amazing waste of brain power.

  • darth vader

    Install cameras outside your home so that the perpetrator/s can be caught if they return.

    • PJD1992

      A camera system would have shown a nice family selfie. Let us hope that the neighbors had a system that caught them in the act.

    • john

      No need to. The perpetrators are the residents of the home.

  • smidball

    Chalk it up as an experience, those types are even within the folks you filed your complaint with in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is very segregated and folks think they can intimidate you with foolishness within certain boundaries. Prepare for the worse and hope for the best.

  • Pat O’Malley

    I’m so sorry that someone did this to you.
    Keep up your strength.
    You are not alone.

    • john

      No one did it. They hung it themselves.

  • Adele Kassler

    I’m grateful and mournful and overwhelmed by the power and breadth and necessity of these words. While the ugliness of the most blatant symbols is often so jarring, it is the untold and unrecognised history, the compliance, the layers of years of aiding and abetting, the silence, that stoke the day to day existence of this poison. I pledge to do all that I can to daily face my own failings, of which there are many, and to work and resist and be a viral instrument of education and change. My sincere, but insufficient, apologies to you.

    • Candi Miller

      I agree. Well said.

    • PJD1992

      For what are you apologizing? Did you take part in this?!? To apologize for this and somehow attempt to place yourself in the middle of it is solipsistic narcissistic virtue signalling at its very left wing finest. Great work.

      • Adele Kassler

        Pass me by with that BS comment.

        • PJD1992

          So you apologize for things in which you played no role? Is that part of a definable mental illness or simply a programmed political response?

          In what way is my comment BS? I suspect that you have no actual answer….