Although there is some debate about the intent behind a dummy hanging from a tree in a local front yard, the display is clearly in poor taste and reflects very badly on our community at a time when so many are working to improve the racial climate.
The greater Cumberland region must confront racism — and racist images — and we must work together to provide a culture that is welcoming for all residents and visitors.
A figure hanging from a tree alongside Chestnut Ridge Road, near Interstate 68 in Grantsville, Garrett County, should and did spark emotional reactions — given the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, which prompted rallies and protests connected with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Pictures of the lynching scene caused a furor this week on social media and drew the ire of a U.S. congressman, at least for a day.
In a Twitter post, U.S. Rep. David Trone, who represents Garrett County as part of Maryland’s 6th District, called the image “a racist, abhorrent hanging effigy” — an opinion that we share — although Trone, a Democrat, would not talk to The Times-News on Friday about the scene or his response.
As our Lindsay Renner-Wood reported, the congressman on Thursday tweeted: “If there was any question, racism is still very alive in our country today. We must fight this disgusting behavior with every bone in our body. #BlackLivesMatter”
His and other social media posts reflect the damage that can be done to our community.
Consider this comment: “Frostburg students, please know that these are the people that surround us when we go to Walmart, when we decide to go to Denny’s or to go downtown (in) Cumberland.”
The hanging figure is a mannequin or dummy dressed in gray pants and a gray hooded sweatshirt on an elaborate pulley system. Gender and race are not overtly clear.
Del. Wendell Beitzel, a Republican who represents Garrett County in the Maryland General Assembly, said he was aware of a display at the property “several years ago” — either the same presentation or a previous version.
He was told the display was not intended as racial intimidation but rather as a message related to a personal relationship.
Beitzel said there are no county or municipal rules that would compel the property owner to remove the figure.
“Truthfully, I don’t like it. I don’t think people in the community should do things like that,” Beitzel said. “But we have people who have different opinions about things, and so we’ve got to respect their right to do it, too. I guess a whole bunch of people died to give us the liberties we have, and we just can’t willy-nilly take those away.”
We aren’t suggesting it’s time to take away anyone’s First Amendment right to free speech.
However, commentary should be tasteful and appropriate, and public displays should ultimately reflect the community’s values.
This does not.
As a debate raged over whether this was a Halloween figure left up from October, having it there in full view now reflects either an intentional attempt to anger others or complete ignorance of what has been happening across the country and in our streets.
One social media comment suggested a lack of common sense: “Given the current state of what’s going on in the world today, you would think a person would have some kind of thought, ‘hey maybe I better take this down so people don’t get the wrong idea.’”
There is no right idea for such a display, which has undeniable racial overtones.
We are committed to working with residents and local leaders to forge a safe, inclusive and unified community — free of bigotry and injustice.
Such images have no place here.