The appearance of an apparently racist political display at an east Morgan Hill residence depicting watermelons and a noose in criticism of President Barack Obama has inspired widespread Internet commentary accusing its owner of hatred, even if it hasn’t caught the attention of immediate neighbors.
Morgan Hill isn’t the only place in the South Valley where tensions seem to be on conspicuous display as the Nov. 6 election approaches. The San Benito County Republican Party reported last week that a vandal and thief compromised at least two political signs supporting Mitt Romney for president.
The political display in Morgan Hill, on Foothill Avenue southeast of Tennant Avenue, depicts an empty chair standing on a plywood platform nailed to the top of a white fence. On the chair are two watermelons, with a yellow rope tied at one end in the shape of a noose hanging down.
In front of the chair, facing it and nailed to a post is a clear piece of glass or plastic with a hand-written message saying, “Go back to Kenya you idiot.”
A printed political sign declaring support for Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the upcoming presidential election is also affixed to the top of the fence, a few yards down from the chair display.
Behind the fence, which is on the east side of Foothill Avenue is a small garden with fruits and vegetables growing, with a home, vehicles and farm equipment set back from the road. A closed iron gate blocked the driveway Tuesday.
Numerous attempts to contact the resident or producer of the display have gone unanswered.
Some residents have called the display racist and embarrassing. Morgan Hill resident Susan Shirley posted a photo to her Facebook page Sunday with the following comments:
“Sorry to bum you out on a Sunday, but blatant racism thrives in my beautiful town of Morgan Hill, Ca. Driving down a road between Morgan Hill and San Martin, we spotted some Romney signs, then a chair. Amusing. Then we noticed the watermelons on the chair. Disgusting. Finally we noticed the noose hanging over the side of the chair. Horrifying. Freedom of speech? Absolutely. Freedom for people to share this picture with everyone they know to point out the ominous side of the conservative party-PLEASE.”
A neighbor across the street from the display said she had not even noticed chair when asked her opinion about it Tuesday morning. Observing the props from her barn, where she was feeding her chickens, the neighbor said it was a “mystery” to her what the work means. She said an African-American man lives or used to live at the home where the display was erected.
When told what the message presumably directed at President Barack Obama on the clear piece of plastic facing the chair said, the woman replied, “It’s amazing how ignorant people can be in this information age.”
The neighbor declined to provide her name.
Another neighbor on the east side of Foothill Avenue declined to comment on the political display.
Other neighbors were not home Tuesday or Wednesday.
A spokeswoman from the Santa Clara County Democratic Party, which supports Obama for president, said she was “stunned and shocked” at the display, especially the depiction of an apparent noose.
“Freedom of speech is a basic right but this takes it too far in that I find it threatening to our president,” said Democratic Party spokeswoman Swanee Edwards.
She added that the Democrats do not think the display represents the views of the Republican Party or Romney supporters in general, but it might be the work of a subscriber to the ultra-conservative Tea Party or Patriots groups, some of whose members have recently expressed fear and dislike of the Muslim Cordoba Center mosque project proposed to be built in San Martin.
“I think it’s a sick individual,” Edwards said.
And in San Benito County last week, the GOP chairman reported that two large pro-Romney signs posted with permission on private property had been targeted by opponents.
One of the signs was manipulated with vandalism to read, “Romney Lies.” Party chairman Marvin Jones said the name “Ryan,” referring to Romney’s running mate on the sign, had been painted over with the word “Lies.”
Jones said such vandalism restricts free-speech rights, while the party Wednesday placed the sign outside Sixth Street in Hollister along with a sheet posted on it asking “Who did this?”
Jones surmised that the vandals were referring to last week’s presidential debate, after which both candidates received criticism for the accuracy of their statements.
It was among five signs – he said they were 4-by-8 feet – which the Republicans posted around town last weekend, and Jones said another sign had been stolen.
Interim Hollister Police Chief David Westrick said such crimes occur every election.
“It’s pretty common,” he said. “Obviously, people are passionate about their politics.”
There haven’t been other reports of such election-related theft or vandalism in Hollister. Jones said the Republicans did not report the matter to Hollister police – he contended officers would tell them to file an online report – while Democratic Party Chairman Gregory Rivera could not be reached immediately on the sign matter. As for the stolen sign, Jones said it had been posted at Seventh and Sally streets.
The Hollister Free Lance contributed to this report. Get connected to other locals, give us feedback on stories and tell us about community events at www.morgahillvoices.com.