Melissa Castro, Star-Ledger (Jersey City), October 16, 2007
Chesla Flood couldn’t believe her eyes. A hangman’s noose circled the neck of a black-hooded, jeans-clad dummy suspended from the chimney of a house in Madison.
Flood called her mother, Millie Hazlewood, who reported the Halloween display to police. She wasn’t the only one. Police went to the property at least three times starting Sunday, and even the mayor asked the homeowners to take down the figure.
At 8 last night, the family relented, saying they feared for their safety.
“It’s no more like freedom of speech anymore,” Cheryl Maines said. “My son had to take this down because these people have blown this thing out of proportion.”
Before the figure was removed yesterday, Madison Mayor Ellwood “Woody” Kerkeslager said “the appearance and the suggestion (of racism) is there, and it’s inappropriate.”
Unlike those incidents, the Madison figure was part of a Halloween display, and for two days, homeowners Cheryl and David Maines, the borough’s superintendent of public works, refused to budge. They said they had done nothing wrong.
Meanwhile, the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People denounced the display as offensive, racist and insensitive.
Last night, the Maines family said they would be replacing their Halloween display and erecting a sign reading: “Thanks to the assistance of Millie Hazlewood and her friends, Halloween and Christmas decorations will no longer be celebrated here.”
The incident revived the persistent question of what is entertaining and what is offensive.
D.J. Maines, the 27-year-old son of Cheryl and David Maines, has bedecked the house for seven Halloweens using $5,000 worth of decorations he has collected. He has used the hanging dummy each year, but usually it is partially hidden by other decorations.
Madison police checked with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office to determine whether the noose display was illegal or could be ordered down, according to police records. Two assistant prosecutors and a detective reviewed the matter and answered no to both questions.
In New York, politicians, community leaders and activists are calling for a law that would make it a felony to use a noose to harass or play a prank. State Sen. Eric Adams and New York City leaders gathered Sunday on the steps of Columbia Teachers College to call for the stiffer penalty on noose incidents.