Noose at BHS. Photo: anonymous
The noose that was discovered hanging from a tree at BHS on the afternoon of Wednesday Oct. 1. Photo: Anonymous tipster
The noose that was discovered hanging from a tree at BHS on the afternoon of Wednesday Oct. 1. Photo: Anonymous tipster

Berkeley High administrators considered whether a noose found hanging in a tree earlier this month might have been in some way related to the suicide in February of a 21-year-old man on the BHS campus, according to Berkeley Unified Assistant Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi.

On Oct. 1 at around 2 p.m., a thin rope tied in the form of a noose was found in a tree on the campus green at Berkeley High School.

Berkeley police were called to investigate the incident, and worked with school safety officers.

Eight days after the discovery, on Oct. 9., Berkeley High Vice Principal Jorge Melgoza sent an email to the BHS community detailing what actions the school was taking in the wake of the noose’s discovery.

Melgoza described the noose as an “act of hate” and said it was “a clear and stark reminder that racism is alive and well in this country.”

Administrators also wondered whether the noose might be in some way related to the suicide on Feb. 17 on the campus of Michael B. Hamilton, who was not affiliated with the school, according to Scuderi, who, until last year, was principal of Berkeley High.

“[The discovery] led some to initially speculate as to whether or not … this object might not be connected in some way to that incident, or whether it was in some way symbolic of, or a preview or threat of, suicide,” Scuderi told Berkeleyside. “There is no evidence of that, as no note, social media posting, or any other accompanying pieces of evidence was connected to the object or found near the site.”

Hamilton was found dead on the Berkeley High School campus Monday, Feb. 17, when the school was closed for Presidents Day holiday. Authorities ruled his death, by hanging, to be a suicide. Hamilton’s family, who lives in Oregon, said he had been struggling with drug addiction. They did not know how he ended up at Berkeley High.

Scuderi said that, despite any evidence of a link — “in light of that possibility we will continue to encourage any students who need support with any social and emotional issues to contact their counselors or the health center if they feel they need support of any kind.”

Scuderi said the investigation into the noose has included an extensive review of surveillance video.

“Thus far we have been unable to identify who might have placed the object there given the size of the object relative to the tree and the angle of cameras in the area,” he said.

“What we do know is that, for many of our students and many of our staff members, the presence of this symbol, regardless of intent, was immediately and understandably seen as representative of unconscionable and race-based violence and oppression. In light of these questions and concerns, we have a responsibility to ensure that our school community is well-educated about the horrific historical implications of this symbol and clearly reiterate that such statements are not accepted, permitted, or welcome in our schools.”

BHS teachers, leaders and administrators planned to discuss the issue Monday this week, and to collaborate on ways to support and educate students.

Scuderi said the African-American Studies Department would be working with staff and administrators to organize a teach-in or community day of learning in the near future, and that a series of small group assemblies was being considered, as well as “options for guest speakers or presenters that might help support the educational goals being pursued in response.”

Dates for these events will be announced to the school community shortly.

Noose hanging from tree discovered at Berkeley High School (10.10.14)
Berkeley High suicide victim’s family mourns (02.21.14)
Police investigate possible suicide on Berkeley High campus (02.17.14)

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...