This is a story which was unfolding at the end of last week and into the weekend, but we’re just catching up with it now. A terrible looking event took place at a public playground in Philadelphia Thursday afternoon. Someone took a child’s doll representing an African-American baby, and hung it from a noose in a tree. Making matters even worse, the park was the site of the graveyard for the Mother Bethel AME Church, one of the earliest serving the black community in the region. As you’ll see below, it took the city’s Mayor no time at all to blame this on… well, I’ll leave you to guess for now.
The discovery understandably shocked everyone, with one local outlet describing it as, “a powerful and painful symbol of violent racism.” Speculation quickly began running rampant with demands for the perpetrator(s) to be found and punished. The Mayor himself took to both the city’s website and his own Twitter account to condemn the act and call for justice. And you won’t be shocked to learn that he blamed it on Trump. That doesn’t show up in his Tweet, but he put it on the city website. (Emphasis added)
Sickened by what took place today at Weccacoe Playground. This despicable act shows how far this country has fallen when people are inspired by hateful rhetoric. We'll do everything we can to bring those responsible to justice: https://t.co/eHw87cgxBc
— Jim #MaskUpPHL Kenney (@PhillyMayor) August 2, 2018
“I am sickened by what took place today at Weccacoe Playground. Although the investigation is still underway, I want to immediately condemn this despicable act. It demonstrates how far this country has fallen when people are inspired by the hateful rhetoric of our President. And it is particularly disgraceful to make a sacrilege out of a sacred burial ground, where thousands of African Americans are interred. The City will do everything in its power to bring the people responsible to justice for this disgusting act.”
As I said, most of the anger was understandable. But the local focus quickly turned toward the “hate-filled climate” of America under the current administration. Surely there were some white supremacists on the prowl, no doubt inspired by Donald Trump, just as the Mayor said.
There was just one problem. A quick survey of local residents turned up a pastor at the local church who had actually seen the crime taking place and he had a good idea who the perpetrators were. The local CBS outlet tracked him down and soon had the villains in hand… a group of pre-teen boys, both black and white, who thought they were playing a prank to “creep people out.”
A group of children claimed Thursday evening that they hung a black baby doll from a noose at a Philadelphia playground to “creep people out” — an action that prompted a police investigation and swift condemnation from spiritual and city leaders…
Shortly after 6 p.m., a group of boys — all under the age of 13 and of mixed races — walked up to NBC10 reporter Rosemary Connors and photojournalist John Panfile and claimed they hung the doll.
Tyler, the pastor, took the boys aside and let them explain why they decided to hang the doll. According to Tyler, the boys claimed they found the doll on the roof of a structure in the park and found it “creepy.”
Here’s the brief video report, including the confrontation with the unnamed children.
Mystery solved and it wasn’t a group of neo-nazis after all. The fact that these children would find such a “prank” acceptable at that age and not have a clue about the symbolism involved seems a bit dubious, but speaks more to their parent’s childrearing skills than any larger societal message. This one didn’t turn out to be one of the many faked hate crimes which have been uncovered in recent years, though those are even more troubling. The main lesson here should be a reminder that even in a social media world which is constantly hungry for fresh, hot takes, we can’t simply rush to judgment, no matter how tempting or obvious the subject may be. Racism hasn’t been entirely eradicated from our country, but not every inflammatory story winds up being anything close to what it seems at first glance.