Student Blawg: But what happens if I just think about a noose?

But what happens if I just think about a noose?

by Linda Ruth Carter

It was early in the morning when I saw this story. It had me rubbing my eyes in disbelief, questioning whether or not I was still asleep. According to the New York newspaper, North Country Gazette:

New York State Senate Majority passed legislation Monday, sponsored by Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), to make it a felony to etch, paint, draw or otherwise place or display a noose on public or private property.”

I went and got my coffee and read it again. Unbelievable as it is, this is not a joke.

There are so many things wrong with this nascent legislation, I hardly know where to begin. From the rest of the article I gather that there have been a rash of incidents involving anonymous nooses being sent to, among other people, a black high school teacher in Brooklyn.

Although I feel awful about having to make this clear, I feel compelled to state that I recognize hanging nooses in people’s yards is akin to marching up and down the sidewalk in front of their house wearing white sheets with matching pointy hats. The intention is to harass and intimidate. It is meant to frighten people into disappearing either physically or verbally. It is threatening people to be invisible, silent. And that, my free-speech-loving friends is wrong.

But, let’s take a close look at the New York State Senate’s misguided attempt to address the issue. First of all, this is proposing that it be a FELONY to “etch, paint, draw or otherwise place or display a noose.” That is enough to short circuit my sense of understanding of the First Amendment. You cannot restrict the use of any particular image or you kill all possibility of creating art. Ever. But wait, that’s not all. This is not only in public but on private property. People had better start sift through their Halloween decorations mighty carefully this year or they could end up with a class E felony on their list of credentials for that impressively scary display in your foyer.

There’s no end to the list of potentially offensive images besides a noose, and none of them should be outlawed. To do so is directly and unambiguously abridging the freedom of speech. I thought it was established a long time ago that offensive speech (including images) was included in that.

I’m willing to be generous to the thinking behind this effort and assume the impulse had to do with wanting people to be decent to each other. But this is not going to accomplish that or anything good. It merely creates another horror all of its own.


2 responses to “Student Blawg: But what happens if I just think about a noose?

  • stephaniecjones

    We as a country do not want to start a war within our country. Our wars are now over seas. A country that is divided will not stand. This is an attempt to put out the fire of prejudice and segregation.

  • Sherry Conca

    Obviously none of the fine Senators of the great State of New York have ever been on a ranch, farm, or anywhere near a horse stable where a rope with noose is utilized in work and play and is part of the everyday attire. I am sure they have horse stables in New York. I agree with Ms. Carter that this legislation passed by the New York State Senate is not only in direct opposition to our rights under the First Amendment but also another example of a knee jerk reaction to a small portion of society that ends up ruling the Majority. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights that expressly prohibits the United States Congress from making laws “respecting an establishment of religion” or that prohibit the free exercise of religion, laws that infringe the freedom of speech, infringe the freedom of the press, limit the right to peaceably assemble, or limit the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Given its rights under the First Amendment, even that Minority has a right to wear white sheets and voice their opinions. I wonder how much of the taxpayer’s money was used to pass this legislation? And what the general public thinks of their Senators focusing on this when there are much bigger issues that need addressing like unemployment, budgets, health care, etc.? It will be interesting to follow the life of this legislation. I am sure that it will be challenged in the near future, at the cost of the general public again, and hopefully it will be determined to be in conflict with the Constitution and have to ultimatley be thrown out. Meantime, the stables are going to have to figure out a new way to lead those horses. I bet you some of those horses belong to a NY Senator or two.

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