By Stephanie Harp in the Bangor (Maine) Daily News

In recent weeks, homeowners in  VirginiaTexasColorado and Washington state have hung empty chairs from trees.

chairlynchingWA

This display in Washington state is one of several that have appeared around the country recently.

This comes in the wake of actor Clint Eastwood’s empty chair speech at the Republican National Convention. Never mind agreeing or disagreeing with the presidential candidates. Eastwood clearly intended the viewer to imagine President Barack Obama in that empty chair. And those who displayed chairs in their yards, beginning less than three weeks later, clearly intended them to represent hanging Obama.

Some claimed they tied chairs in trees to prevent theft. That doesn’t pass the laugh test when other chairs remain on the homeowners’ porches. Neither do claims that the displays aren’t references to lynching. The implied hanging-in-effigy of our first African American president is about more than politics. If the chair hangers didn’t understand the shameful history they were invoking, they should have. Lynching is not a joke….

Most commonly committed by rope, though in myriad other ways as well, a lynching was designed to scare African Americans into submission. Lynchers often left their victims hanging on the edges of black neighborhoods, so every resident would understand the unmistakable message of white supremacy. Like the burning crosses of the Ku Klux Klan, lynchings were warnings to African Americans who, in local white opinion, didn’t know or keep “their place.”

HangInThereObama sign

Thomas Savka swears he’s a fan of President Obama, and says his controversial sign off Highway 21 in Redgranite, Wis. is only meant to grab your attention. But from far away, you can only read the larger red letters that say “HANG OBAMA.”

…Lynchings and racist threats didn’t end in some distant past: Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. both were killed in 1998. We can’t ignore this history, or joke about it.

Disagreements about policy and politics is one thing. Threats of racially motivated, violent hate crimes are quite another and have no place in a democracy that claims to celebrate diversity and equal rights.

Read more here.