Local protests sparked over hanging mannequin

Photo by Tony Kukulich

A large force of police officers from multiple local agencies line Garin Parkway near Craig Court in Brentwood, Friday, Nov. 6. On Thursday morning, a resident there hung a mannequin — an effigy of President-Elect Joe Biden — with a noose from his rooftop, drawing protests against the racial and political implications of the display. After a tense standoff between the protesters and the police, the protest ended peacefully.

One local resident’s choice to hang a mannequin from a noose on his property last week brought about two nights of protests attended by hundreds, police SWAT forces, one arrest and vandalism. 

Craig Court resident Eric Harvey’s home decorated with Trump paraphernalia is well-known in the neighborhood — especially since the home abuts Garin Parkway, a thoroughfare road in the Garin Ranch neighborhood. The home is also known for flying a Confederate flag in years past. But when Harvey hung a mannequin by a noose last week, he brought about the condemnation of the community, which came out to protest on Thursday and Friday even after the display was taken down.

Harvey said in a Nov. 5 video posted on Facebook that the hanging mannequin was supposed to be an effigy of President-Elect Joe Biden. Early images of the effigy before it was taken down showed the mannequin was clothed and displayed a black ball cap covering the mannequin’s face, a long sleeved shirt and denim blue jeans. A cardboard sign was across the chest of the mannequin and read “Sleepy Joe (Cheater).”

“Sure enough, somebody had called and wasn’t happy about the dummy hanging from the roof … (the police) told me I didn’t have to take it down — they couldn’t make me take it down, because it’s Halloween decor ­— but I told them, ‘Nah, I’ll take it down,’” Harvey said in the video. “Everybody’s crying because there’s a dummy hanging from my (expletive) roof. So I’m headed home right now to cut it down. I’m gonna take a nice little picture of it and I’ll post it after I cut it down … the Dems, they can cheat, they can (expletive) rob, do whatever they want, but the race is still close as hell. And now, I put a dummy on my roof and they can’t (expletive) hang.”

But those who came out to decry the effigy stated the image of a human figure hanging by the neck was not simply a political stance — it was one with deep roots in racism.

On the first protest night, Nov. 5, one protester, Jen Kramer, held signs with her children that read “Brentwood grows corn, not hate.”

 “I understand that this is his freedom of speech, and he can do whatever he wants at his house, but it’s also our freedom of speech to come out here and tell him what the community thinks of this display,” Kramer said. “If he doesn’t know the symbolism behind lynching, he should educate himself on that, if he wasn’t trying to make a racial statement. That’s how it came across to every person who drove by out here, and Brentwood is not about that.” 

Like many of the protesters present who spoke with The Press, neighbor Della Hudson stressed that it wasn’t about Harvey’s political affiliation. 

“We’ve seen a lot of Trump supporters going through, but we’re not even paying attention to them,” Hudson said. “It’s not about Trump. It’s about racism, and it has to stop. In our own community, it has to stop.”

Peter Flores, another nearby resident, agreed. He felt Harvey had gone too far. 

“Every time I come over here, I try to ignore (the Trump paraphernalia) as much as possible,” Flores said. “But he overdid it with that (mannequin). I don’t mind with the Trump or the American flags.”

Protester Corinne Costa and her friend stood with signs that read “White silence is violence.” 

“I think it’s a disgusting display,” Costa said of the lynched mannequin, “and I’m happy to see our community out here right now and showing support for the black community.” 

As the night wore on, tempers flared when Trump supporters arrived. The crowd of protesters and Trump supporters grew to about 200, and the Brentwood police monitored the situation.

Following a warning from the Oakland Police Department, the BPD also prepared for an influx of protesters who arrived from out of town. Lt. Walter O’Grodnick later confirmed that about 40 to 50 did arrive from outside the area on Nov. 5. 

Sometime later that evening, suspects vandalized the home on Craig Court, along with the vehicle parked outside — spray-painting the garage door and car and breaking the vehicle’s windshield.

On Friday, Nov. 6, the police department prepared for another night of protests, and downtown business owners boarded up windows and doors, fearful of rioting. The evening began at the downtown City Park, with protesters marching to the police department off Brentwood Boulevard and then down to the “Trump house.”  

A line of officers in riot gear stood between the protesters and the Craig Court house.

“The decision to activate the mobile field force was my decision, and I wanted to make sure we had enough personnel on scene in the event we thousands of people converge on our city,” said BPD Police Chief Tom Hansen. “I’m in the business of protecting my 65,000 citizens. I plan for the worst and pray for the best, and that’s it. I don’t want to be caught unprepared … My reason to put that many officers out in that court was not to protect that person’s house, per se, but to protect the residents of that neighborhood that were extremely frightened and scared that their neighborhood would potentially be damaged or somebody be injured.”

Hansen also explained that his decision to have a SWAT team monitor downtown was to protect the businesses.

“We had a good, thought-out plan, and I believe that’s the reason that we only had one arrest that night, and no reported injuries to officers or people,” he continued.

Hansen did note that some in the crowd threw frozen water bottles and batteries; two individuals were seen pulling defensive body armor from bags; and officers found a shotgun shell on the ground.

“One subject decided to batter the officers with a flagpole,” he said, explaining the arrest. “The decision was made to use a tactic to move the crowd back and isolate the person that was arrested, and that’s what we did.”

The protest ended peacefully around 7 p.m. 

In regard to the hanging mannequin, O’Grodnick noted that the BPD consulted with the District Attorney’s (DA) Office to seek direction on whether or not it was a chargeable offense. 

“The DA said no; it does not rise to the level of hate crime or threat, as it’s a First Amendment right,” he said, noting that for it to be considered a hate crime under the penal code in section 422.6, it would need to be a person-on-person crime. “It’s a very offensive symbol; that’s no secret, and it’s an unfortunate decision and behavior ... and folks are upset.”

At press time, the vandalism investigation was still underway.

“No arrest has been made,” O’Gr