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Hate Crime Investigation Opened After Ropes, One With Noose, Found In Trees At Oakland's Lake Merritt

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- Five ropes, one with a noose, that were found in trees around Oakland's Lake Merritt have been taken down and will be investigated as hate crimes, according to Oakland police and Mayor Libby Schaaf.

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Oakland officials said the FBI has been notified of the case and given evidence.

Schaaf posted about the disturbing discovery via her Twitter account Wednesday morning, confirming the investigation into the nooses found around the lake as hate crimes.

"Symbols of racial violence have no place in Oakland and will not be tolerated," Schaaf's message read. "Several nooses found on trees around Lake Merritt were removed and will be investigated as hate crimes."

The mayor went on to say that the ropes were part of exercise equipment "do not remove or excuse their torturous or terrorizing effects."

Oakland police on Wednesday afternoon confirmed details about the discovery of the ropes and the investigation.

Tuesday afternoon at around 3:30 p.m., a social media post identified a rope as a noose and suggested this to be a hate crime in the area of Lake Merritt. Oakland police responded to the area of the park and conducted a search, locating a total of five ropes attached to various trees.

Noose found in at Lake Merritt in Oakland
Noose found in at Lake Merritt in Oakland (OPD)

Officers took photos of the ropes prior to the Department of Public Works being contacted and removing all five ropes. Oakland police collected all evidence, ropes and photos for documentation in a police report.

Oakland police said that city leadership, including the mayor's office and the City Administrator's office, as well as the directors of the Parks, Recreation & Youth Development and Race & Equity departments were notified about the discovery.

Police said during their initial investigation, several community members reported the ropes were used for exercise equipment. One community member claimed ownership of the ropes and stated that he intentionally placed the ropes on the tree limbs for exercise and games several months earlier.

The statement released said that Oakland police and city officials recognize -- especially at this time -- that any ropes on or attached to trees, limbs or other objects can be associated with hate crimes and racial violence.

"We remind and ask our community to be mindful when using this equipment in a recreational manner. These acts may send an unintended message," police said.

Police said that additional patrols would be assigned to Lake Merritt and that department is conducting a full and thorough investigation of the incident.

At a press conference later Wednesday afternoon, Schaaf said that the Oakland Police Department had turned the evidence over to the FBI.

"We have to start with the assumption that these are hate crimes," said Schaaf. "We cannot take these actions lightly. These symbols are symbols of racial violence, and it is incumbent on all of us to have that sensitivity; to have that knowledge."

"It is incumbent on all of us to know the actual history of racial violence, of the terrorism that the noose represents, and that we as a city must remove these terrorizing symbols from the public view and investigate these as hate crimes until further notice," continued Schaaf.

It is against city code to hang anything from public trees, but Mayor Schaaf said in a moment when the wounds of racial injustice are openly bleeding, this isn't just about civic violations.

"We have to see this moment for what it is, a reckoning. And in Oakland we cannot further terrorize or traumatize our black residents," said Schaaf.

Arts Commissioner Theo Williams added that there is no room for hate in Oakland. 

"It's a hate crime and we can't tolerate it. The lake area is intended for families and it's an open public space and it's a safe space we need to have to feel safe," Williams said during a press conference.

"Initial information came in that this was exercise equipment. Some of it may have been, but some of it absolutely was not," said Oakland Parks and Recreation Director J. Nicholas Williams

Similar discoveries have happened in Oakland in recent years. In the fall of 2019, the Oakland Unified School District sent out a warning to parents about a second rope that resembled a noose found near Chabot Elementary.

In 2017, longshoremen at one of the Port of Oakland's four active marine terminals walked off the job in response to nooses that were found on the property.

Police are asking anyone with information regarding the incident to please come forward and contact investigators at (510) 238- 3728 or call the OPD Hate Crime Hotline at (510) 637-4283.

Andria Borba contributed to this story.

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