Halloween displays with nooses raise specter of racism in South Jersey
ALLOWAY — History has come to haunt a gruesome Halloween display on the porch of a South Jersey home as well as a seasonal post on a restaurant's Facebook page.
Nelson Carney Jr., president of the Salem County NAACP, told New Jersey 101.5 that the figure of a person with a burlap bag over its head hanging on the porch of a Greenwich Avenue home was brought to his attention by several people who were offended.
"People can take it any way they want. But in this day and age, my thing is the noose. If he didn't have that noose on it, I think he could have gotten away without anyone complaining about it," Carney said.
Alloway's annual Halloween parade is Saturday and Carney hoped the owner of the home would take it down by then.
Phil Gannon, the home's owner for the past nine years, said he's been putting up the display for three years with help from his father-in-law, Joel Jiannone.
"It's a Halloween decoration. It's a hanging scarecrow. It's not anything else other than a decoration," Gannon told New Jersey 101.5.
"I think people are going too far with this. They're not looking at the circumstances from anyone else's point of view except their own. They want it to be racial, so it's racial even though that the farthest thing from the truth," Gannon said, adding that he has nieces and nephews who are bi-racial.
Carney said he reported the display to the Salem County Prosecutor's Office because the township does not have its own police department. He said he has not heard back from prosecutors.
Carney said he doesn't know whether the display constitutes any crime, but he believes the homeowner should not face any charges.
"The township has been known for racism before," Carney said. He cited a similar incident in which police had to order a display be taken down. "Hopefully it won't get out of hand."
Salem County Prosecutor John Lenahan told NJ.com he sent detectives from his office to speak with Jiannone on Thursday but he was not home.
Gannon said he works during the day and is not home when they came.
"I don't understand what the Prosecutor's Office has to do with it considering I haven't broken any laws and I don't have any warrants for my arrest. I have no criminal record. To me it seems like an abuse of power that you're going to send the Prosecutor's Office detectives to my home to try to bully me into removing a prop for a Halloween display because you're offended by it," Gannon said.
Gannon said that if Carney had come directly to him and explained his position he would have taken the display down.
"If I offended someone I apologize. If they'd come to me or if the NAACP had come to me and said 'Hey, listen, this had offended people can you take it down?' I would have done that," he said.
"They're going about it the wrong way. They're plastering my house on the newspaper, they're plastering my house online, they're leaving it vague so people can form their own judgement on whether or not my family is racist or not."
He said the prop's head under the bag is white.
"People have their own ideas what they want it to be and they're running with it. There's enough problems one town over with young black men killing themselves but the NAACP doesn't come out for that. They want to come out to my home for a Halloween prop," Gannon said.
Gannon said his neighbors have defended the display to media outlets and said they don't believe it to be racial.
His father-in-law said he is a Halloween and horror movie fan and said a cowboy hanging from a water tower at the Creamy Acres haunted hayride in Mullica Hill inspired him.
"We've hung it for the last three years. I've never had that much trouble with it. I didn't think I was offending anyone. " Jiannone told NJ 101.5. He said his son-in-law owns the home.
Jiannone said he used to host big Halloween parties and loves the holiday so much he used to drive a hearse. "It was my pride and joy."
Carney said as of Friday morning the figure was still on Jiannone's front porch.
The display is not the only Halloween-related controversy involving a noose.
The Gloucester County NAACP asked the Adlephia Restaurant in Deptford to remove a photo from their Facebook page of a prize-winning costume showing a cowboy holding a noose around a man's neck. The man is not black.
"The American history of lynching black people is well known and the 'hangman's noose' has been a historical symbol of intimidation," president Loretta Winters wrote in a letter to the restaurant, according to NJ.com.
The story said Adelphia posted a response on its Facebook defending the post as "nothing but a photo." However, the photo and response were not found on the restaurant's Facebook page on Friday morning.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com