Fear and Outrage Follow After Black Man Is Found Hanging in Atlanta Park

In a leafy, urban park, amid a backdrop of gleaming skyscrapers, a black man’s body was found dangling from a tree. 

Police officials said the incident early Thursday in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park appeared to be a suicide. The city’s mayor, Kasim Reed, said evidence suggested “no foul play.” Yet the suspicion grew.

With African Americans across the nation on edge after consecutive fatal police shootings of black men – Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota – rumor, and then panic spread. Within hours, the hashtag #PiedmontParkHanging was trending on Twitter.

“Just read that a black man was hung in Atlanta by kkk,” one Twitter user wrote. “And they’re saying it’s a suicide.”

“This was not a suicide,” another declared. “This was a public LYNCHING. AmeriKKKa”

Questions abounded on social media. How, many asked, did the man get up the tree? Would a black man, particularly in the South, willingly hang himself in such a way?

By the afternoon, the tension was so thick that Reed announced he had referred the case to the FBI.

A black man hanging from a noose conjures up the ugliest images of Southern history. This man, however, was found not in a remote, backwoods rural area of the Deep South, but in a lush, urban oasis of the relatively affluent Midtown area, home to Fortune 500 companies, tech start-ups, upscale bars and a thriving gay community.

“I feel like time is going backward rather than forward,” said Alexander Torres, a 29-year old physician’s assistant from Puerto Rico, as he walked his cockapoo around the park’s lake

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I’m sorry, it’s hard getting my head around it.”

A remnant of yellow police caution tape fluttered in the thick, summer breeze as a mix of Atlantans – black and white, straight and gay – mingled in the park Friday to jog, stretch, walk dogs and push strollers. Along a nearby trail, a discarded sign, “STOP POLICE BRUTALITY,” rested on the gnarled root of a tree.

Some feared the hanging was a symbol of extreme and horrific racism, a throwback to the South’s legacy of segregationist violence. Others wondered if the reaction was an overblown, Twitter-fueled panic attack amid a jittery climate following so many police shootings of black men.

Eddy Dixon, 48, a black acquisitions business owner who lives in the nearby neighborhood of Buckhead, said he believed the hanging was a suicide. “This is generating a lot of anxiety, but I don’t feel racial hostility exists here,” he said as he gazed at a cluster of women performing yoga. “The majority of people in this state, whether in small towns or big metropolises, generally accept people quite well. The difference between now and 50 years ago — it’s day and night.”

Calvin Croom, 75, a black, retired public school teacher originally from Fairfield, Ala., was one of many who came to Piedmont Park to reflect. “I want to accept what they say, but because of where I come from, it brings back painful memories.”

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Source: Chicago Tribune | Jenny Jarvie

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