UPDATE: Prosecutors released photos from surveillance footage and are asking for the public’s help to identify the woman in the footage, who they say is tied to the crime. Click here for photos and information on how to get in touch with authorities.
RIO GRANDE – Police are investigating a potential hate crime, after a photo was widely circulated online Election Night, depicting stuffed dolls hanging from nooses tied to a tree above a sign for a Black candidate for Congress.
Police in Middle Township confirmed to the Herald that an investigation related to the Nov. 8 incident is ongoing but said no charges have been filed or arrests made as of midday Nov. 9.
A post on the Facebook page Cape May Scanner showed a campaign sign for Tim Alexander staked in the ground below a stuffed Muppet, the Cat in the Hat character and another child’s doll which were all suspended in the air by a rope tied around their necks, which was attached to a tree branch on the other end. The post indicated the photo was taken near a large liquor store on Route 47.
Alexander, a Democrat, was handily defeated by Republican Jeff Van Drew for a seat in the House of Representatives Nov. 8. He was reached by the Herald after publication of this article and coverage of his reaction will be forthcoming.
The noose is a widely recognized symbol of racism, intimidation and hate, with roots in America’s history of lynching. Many of these lynchings were carried out as public spectacles by the Klu Klux Klan and other terror groups who acted as judge, jury and executioner, operating without due process for the victim or respect for their humanity. The NAACP estimates that 72% of the 4,743 people lynched in the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries were African Americans.
Middle Township police told the Herald they don’t know yet who they’re looking for in relation to the incident but are thoroughly investigating.
“We’re definitely on it,” said Det. First Class Kurt Saettler of Middle Township. “The actual investigation itself, I can’t talk about until it’s completed.”
“We’re trying to identify a suspect,” he added.
Mayor Tim Donohue of Middle Township told the Herald he was “horrified” when he first saw the post. In a statement posted to Middle Township’s Facebook page, Donohue wrote:
“This is not who we are in Middle Township. We stand united against all forms of racism, hate, threats and intimidation.
“If this investigation proves charges are warranted, the perpetrator(s) will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Reached by the Herald Nov. 9, Donohue referred a reporter to the online statement. He said he has not reached out to Alexander and will let law enforcement do their job.
“For now, I’m going to see where the investigation goes. Hopefully, we should know more later today,” he said.
Saettler said New Jersey’s biased intimidation statute is one of the potential laws the perpetrator could potentially be accused of violating.
Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland told the Herald Nov. 9 that his office is in the process of preparing a statement to release about the incident.
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