Presumed Racist Until Proven Innocent

by James A. Bacon

Around 11:15 p.m. last Wednesday, a White male dressed in dark clothing climbed the statue of the blind poet Homer on the grounds of the University of Virginia and hung a noose around its neck.

The next day University President Jim Ryan declared the incident to be a “hate crime” and vowed to track down the perpetrator. Ryan said he wanted to assure every member of the UVa community that he was “working to keep you safe and to make the University of Virginia a place where everyone is welcome” regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or political ideology.

“A noose is a recognizable and well-known symbol of violence, most closely associated with the racially motivated lynchings of African Americans,” Ryan said in a prepared statement. “The combination of those factors led University public safety officials to determine that this incident met the criteria of a hate crime and that a community alert was required.”

Proclaiming the incident to be a hate crime seems premature. Given the facts available, I would not call it unreasonable to suspect that noose might have been meant to intimidate African-Americans — let’s call it a working hypothesis — but one must ask, if someone is trying to send a racist message, why hang the noose around the neck of an ancient Greek poet? Why not hang the noose from a tree branch? Or vandalize the shrine to UVa’s slave laborers?

Photograph of suspect released today by the University of Virginia police.

What concerns me here is that so many in the UVa community nurture a sense of victimhood and paranoia, traced back to the Unite the Right rally in 2017. Many at UVa, to purloin a phrase from the days of the Red Scare, see racists under every bed. Indeed, they seek out evidence of racism that confirms their world view in which White supremacists and quasi-fascists represent a growing threat to the nation.

This conspiratorial world view is at odds with reality. As African-American scholar Wilfred Reilly has abundantly documented, there appears to be a far greater demand for racist incidents than the supply; therefore, hate crimes must be concocted. Does anyone recall Jussy Smollett’s disproven claim that MAGA-hat-wearing Whites assaulted him at night and hung a noose around his neck? Reilly has documented dozens of hate-crime hoaxes on college campuses, the most Woke institutions in the nation, where the craving for proof of racism is the most intense.

On the other hand, as another old saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Occasionally, campus hate crimes are real. My point is not to dismiss the possibility that the Homer noose was a hate crime but to sound a note of caution. We know nothing about the perpetrator, other than his race, much less his motive.

Was the perpetrator a student or grad student, or was he an outsider? We don’t know. Does his ideology skew to the left or to the right? We don’t know. As I recall, the White supremacists who marched through the University grounds the day before the Unite the Right rally bore tiki torches, not nooses. The noose, one can argue, plays a much greater role in contemporary leftist iconography.

Take, for example, the paint-splattered Jefferson Davis statue, toppled from its plinth on Richmond’s Monument Avenue, displayed in the Valentine Museum in downtown Richmond.

Photo credit: Virginia Public Media

The text accompanying the Virginia Public Media article says the following: “Tufts of toilet paper clump to the pink paint around his neck, where a noose placed by protestors formerly hung.”

The left has appropriated the imagery of nooses as something to be applied (symbolically) to White racists and, perhaps by extension, to any and all memorials to Western Civilization. As author of two of the oldest and most revered works in the Western canon, Homer epitomizes “Whiteness.” Was the intended message an expression of contempt for Western Civilization? Such an explanation is just as plausible as the allegation that the noose was meant to intimidate Blacks. The point can be argued back and forth endlessly without resolution. The fact is, we don’t know.

Ryan doesn’t know either. Until the perpetrator is apprehended and questioned, there is no way we possibly can know. Sadly, Ryan can conceive of no motive but racism. The suspect is presumed guilty of racism until proven innocent. As a consequence, Ryan has fed a sense of grievance and alarm among African Americans at UVa that may not prove to be justified.

I don’t know the answer. Ryan might be proven right in the end. But until he is, the UVa president should stifle his impulse to signal his virtue, keep his presumptions to himself, and let police do their job.