BELLEAIR — The discovery of a noose hanging from a tree had town officials and the police dealing with an issue they had hoped would never surface in their town: racism.
The noose was hanging from a tree near the Dumpsters on the property of the Belleair Country Club. It was discovered recently by solid waste employees, who were African-American, who came to pick up the trash.
They immediately went to their boss, Town Manager J.P. Murphy, and expressed their concern. Murphy, and Police Chief Bill Sohl began an investigation. What gave added concern is that a grapefruit was under the noose and the workers wear shirts the color of the grapefruit.
At a subsequent Town Commission meeting Murphy read a sternly worded letter making it clear that the town does not condone racism of any sort.
“This noose was positioned openly and in plain view, and while we cannot ascertain its purpose or its creator, we do choose to recognize the hateful symbolism of the act,” he wrote.
“Discrimination and bigotry in any form contradict who we are, who our residents are and what we as a community will stand for,” he said. “Very publicly and very loudly we are raising our voices to reject prejudice. We rebuke this act and refuse to be intimidated by the hateful ignorance that breeds such actions.”
Ed Shaughnessy, the general manager of the country club, made it clear at the meeting that the club and he do not tolerate such acts.
“No matter the intent or motivation of the perpetrators behind this disgusting display of hate I want you to know I take this sort of activity very seriously. We consider this to be disorderly conduct and a racially motivated hate crime,” he wrote in a memo to his employees.
Shaughnessy went on to say that any employee found to have been involved in the act will be terminated immediately.
“No one, not you, not any member or guest should be subject to this type of filth in this day and age,” he wrote.
Shaughnessy said legal action will be taken against anyone found guilty of the action involving the noose.
Tom Olson, a town resident, thanked the commission and the country club for their reaction to the incident; then he continued with a disturbing note.
“It just goes to show how deep-seated racism is and it must be beaten back,” he said.
Dan Hartshorne, another resident, said, “Thank you for stepping up. I know the sanitation workers will be delighted to hear what was done here tonight.”
Mayor Gary Katica added his voice to theirs.
“I’m proud of my town, I’m proud to live here,” he said. “I can’t imagine anyone doing something like this. We will catch them.”
LaterSohl said he hoped any resident or anyone else with any knowledge of the incident or who was involved would call the police and let them know. He expressed confidence that they would find whoever was responsible.
Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution affirming the town’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, “and safeguarding the civil rights, safety and dignity of all people.”