Young boys confess to hanging doll at Weccacoe Playground, unaware of history of lynching

Pat Loeb
August 02, 2018 - 4:33 pm
Philadelphia police are investigating a racially-charged act of vandalism at a Queen Village playground.

Pat Loeb | KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Two young boys have come forward as the ones who hung a black doll on a noose at Weccacoe Playground in Queen Village, unaware of the history of the property or lynching in the U.S.

Philadelphia police began investigating the incident Thursday afternoon, believing it to be a racially-charged act of vandalism.

A mother was with her 3-year-old daughter at the playground, located at 400 Catharine St., when the young girl yelled, "Mom, look at the baby up there." 

She was furious to look up and discover an African-American doll hanging from a power line by a rope tied around its neck as a noose.

"Very, very disturbing. It's actually sickening," said Police Commissioner Richard Ross at the scene. "We're going to try to find out who's responsible for this and we're not going to tolerate it."

A camera on site corroborates the young boys' confession. 

Weccacoe Playground was recently discovered to sit atop an African-American burial ground, which is being incorporated into a renovation, but it continues to be popular with neighborhood children of all races. 

Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel AME Church, adjacent to the site of the playground, said it took courage for the boys to come forward. 

Tyler, in a Facebook Live video alongside City Councilman Mark Squilla, said the boys — one black, one white, both under the age of 13 — found the doll on the roof.

They thought the doll was "creepy" and wanted to use it to scare people. The noose was also found on the roof.

"They did not understand the connection between America's awful history of lynching. They did it because they just saw a doll that was dirty and creepy and thought they could scare people," Tyler added. "As we explained to them, you wanted to scare people like with the word 'boo,' but what you've done is you've really scared people all around the world who've seen the video, who've seen the images."

Tyler thanked Squilla for working with the church to provide funding for a memorial on the site of the burial ground.

"If we had a memorial that was teaching, perhaps these children would have not done what they did because they would have known better," Tyler continued. "We want to make sure that this becomes a place that is teaching about our past so we won't continue to make these mistakes in the future."

Many from the neighborhood also fled to the park for a "chalk-in," in which they drew positive messages of peace and support in chalk.

Prior to the boys' confession, Commission on Human Relations Executive Director Rue Landau said that makes the incident particularly difficult.

"The depiction of a lynching — a powerful and painful symbol of violent racism — strikes fear in an entire community," she said in a statement. "This is a symbolic reminder of America’s painful past and will not be tolerated."

Although this incident stands out, Landau noted there has been an uptick in such incidents in the last year and a half. 

Mayor Jim Kenney also issued a statement: "I am sickened by what took place today at Weccacoe Playground. Although the investigation is still underway, I want to immediately condemn this despicable act. It demonstrates how far this country has fallen when people are inspired by the hateful rhetoric of our President. And it is particularly disgraceful to make a sacrilege out of a sacred burial ground, where thousands of African Americans are interred. The City will do everything in its power to bring the people responsible to justice for this disgusting act."

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KYW Newsradio's Rachel Kurland and Andrew Kramer contributed to this report.