In a legislative session focused on racial equity and inclusion, Oregon is one step closer to outlawing displaying a noose.
The state Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved Senate Bill 398 by a vote of 27-1. The lone dissenter was state Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, who did not offer an explanation or argue against the bill.
SB 398 would create a new crime in Oregon: intimidation by display of a noose. As currently written, the bill would make it a class A misdemeanor to place a noose in public or private property without permission, with the intent of causing intimidation or fear of harm. The crime could be punished by nearly a year in jail, and up to $6,250 in fines.
“Hate speech has to stop,” said state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, who spoke in favor of the bill. “The noose is one of the most provocative, dangerous unambiguous forms of hate speech there is.”
State Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, described frequently seeing nooses in his youth, both directed toward him at school and while demonstrating in the civil rights era.
“It is time to discourage and dismantle the racist dog whistles that are still out there,” Frederick said.
Some senators voiced discomfort with the bill, which they worried could infringe on free speech. But those worries, they said, were outweighed by the just purpose behind SB 398.
“This measure — given the place of the noose and the number of people of color who died in nooses over the last centuries and not so far back as well — sort of makes me look again at my First Amendment fundamentalism,” said state Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland. “To me [it] lays down a larger opportunity to take a firm stand against this particular symbol.”
Should the bill pass the House, Oregon would join a growing list of states that have already made it a crime to display a noose. Some, like New York, provide for felony charges.