A plastic black baby doll found hanging over the site of a recently rediscovered historic African American graveyard was quickly denounced as hate crime and even blamed on President Trump. But a group of preteen black and white boys has reportedly come forward to take responsibility for hanging the doll to scare people, authorities said Thursday.
City leaders denounced the doll as a "hate crime" in the moments after it was discovered hanging from a tree in Weccacoe Playground in the Queen Village section of South Philadelphia – which is also the site of a historic African American cemetery.
Shortly after the black baby doll was discovered, Philly leaders denounced it as an act of hate. Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations Executive Director Rue Landau called it "a heinoushate crime targeting the African American community." Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement that the hanging of the doll "demonstrates how far this country has fallen when people are inspired by the hateful rhetoric of our President." The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 offered a $5,000 reward for the arrest of the perpetrators.
But by the end of the day, the perpetrators had reportedly come forward to take responsibility: a group of black and white boys, under age 13, who had found the doll, thought it looked "scary," and decided to hang it in the tree "to creep people out," NBC10 reported.
Black baby doll found at historic site
NBC10 reporter Rosemary Connors was on-scene reporting on the incident, when, just after 6 p.m., four young boys approached her and admitted to hanging the doll.
Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church, spoke to the boys personally, and said they told him they had discovered the doll – as well as the noose they used to hang it – nearby and decided to set it up to scare people. Tyler said in a Facebook post the children had no idea of the horrific symbolism of their action, nor of the US's monstrous history of lynchings of African Americans. He also said he spoke to police and they told him surveillance video corroborated the children's story, although police did not immediately comment on the case.
"These boys had a lot of heart to tell the truth. They found the doll and thought it was 'creepy'. So in typical boy fashion, they decided to creep people out with it," Tyler said in a Facebook post. "Sadly, they had no idea of the ugly racial past of lynchings. They were remorseful as they understood better the way their act impacted so many. This is why we must ensure that our memorial to the ancestors buried here is one that also teaches children."
Weccacoe Playground was discovered in 2013 to have been built upon a former African American cemetery that was used by the Bethel AME Church in the 19th century. In June, the city shut down the rec center at the site and announced plans to redesign the space in a way that would preserve the playground, while also creating a new memorial to the Bethel burying ground.