The University of California at Berkeley, already fired up over recent protests related to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, has been rocked by controversy after three effigies of lynching victims appeared around campus.
After initially going unclaimed, responsibility for the act has now been assumed by an anonymous collective of artists who say they wanted to draw a link between current police practices and past brutality.
The effigies, discovered on Saturday morning, were life-size cardboard cutouts of historic lynching victims, such as Laura Nelson, a black woman killed in Oklahoma in 1911. The effigies also carried the words “I Can’t Breathe,” a reference to Eric Garner’s last words before he died following a confrontation with New York police. Two of the effigies were quickly taken down by police, while another was removed by a student.
Initially, there were no indications of who was responsible, causing the administration at UC Berkeley to release a cautious statement on Sunday labeling the effigies “deeply disturbing” and promising to work to improve the climate on campus.
Later on Sunday, however, an unnamed collective of “queer black and POC [person of color] artists” placed notices around campus claiming responsibility for placing the effigies.
“These images connect past events to present ones — referencing endemic faultlines of hatred and persecution that are and should be deeply unsettling to the American consciousness,” read the notice. “We choose to remain anonymous because this is not about us as artists, but about the growing movement to address these pervasive wrongs.”
Their announcement included a semi-apology to blacks who felt menaced by the effigies, but would not backtrack any further.
“We apologize solely and profusely to Black Americans who felt further attacked by this work. We are sorry — your pain is ours, our families’, our history’s,” the said. “To all, each image represents a true life ended by an unimaginable act of ignorance and human cruelty: Laura Nelson, George Meadows, Michael Donald, Charlie Hale, Garfield Burley, Curtis Brown. We urge you to further research the lives and deaths of these individuals. History must be confronted.”
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