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John Lundy, Forum Communications, Published November 06 2012

Effigy of Obama with noose around neck tied to Duluth billboard

DULUTH, Minn. - An effigy of President Barack Obama with a noose around his neck was tied to an electronic billboard along one of Duluth’s busiest thoroughfares during the middle of the day on Election Day.

Duluth police were told about the effigy just after 1 p.m. Tuesday, Public Information Officer Jim Hansen said. The effigy was about 3 feet tall and had an Obama mask, Hansen said.

“It’s meant to be offensive, obviously,” Hansen said.

Officers arrived and notified Heartland Digital Outdoor, which owns the sign on Miller Trunk Highway next to Cottonwood Avenue. No one from the sign company was immediately available, so officers and bystanders used a pole and a knife to remove the effigy, Hansen said.

Police are holding the scarecrow as possible evidence, Hansen said.

Kirk Vesterstein, sales manager for Heartland Digital, said the company has had no similar incidents involving its digital signs in four locations in the Northland.

“It’s an act of vandalism,” Vesterstein said. “They’re obviously on private property.”

The perpetrator, if discovered, probably would be charged with disorderly conduct, not vandalism, since property damage didn’t take place, Hansen said. Police don’t have a suspect but consider it an open investigation, he said.

A picture of the effigy appeared briefly on Facebook on Tuesday.

The woman who said she took the picture, who asked not to be identified, said she saw it at 12:50 p.m. as she was leaving the Miller Hill Mall. She called police, and when she returned to the mall at 1:10 p.m. it still hadn’t been taken down but an officer was there.

“The officer asked me if I had seen anyone climbing up there and then said someone must’ve been playing a Halloween prank,” the woman said via Facebook. “I corrected him to say: No, this is the president, and then I posted the picture to Facebook.”

The incident is the second Obama effigy to hit social media in recent days. The Raleigh News & Observer reported Nov. 2 that state election officials were investigating a truck in Goldsboro, N.C., photographed towing a trailer displaying effigies of Obama, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue and other officials hanging from nooses.

TV station KHOU in Houston, Texas, — responding to a misidentification of the picture as having been shot in that city — said the owner is a North Carolina man named V.R. Phipps, who called the contraption his “Mobile Gallows.” His intent, the TV station said on its website this week, was to motivate local officials to investigate the shooting death of a family member, and has nothing to do with race.

“You tell me it’s racism,” the station quotes Phipps saying in a YouTube video. “Well I tell you it’s not. It’s absolutely not … Mr. Barack Obama can get his mannequin down anytime he wants to but it’s a federal investigation that we’re after.”