Police identify suspect believed responsible for placing noose in Village business

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 6, 2023

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GROSSE POINTE CITY — A suspect has been identified in what appears to be a hate crime after a makeshift noose was left in the men’s restroom at the Panera store in The Village the evening of Dec. 30.

On Jan. 3, Grosse Pointe City Public Safety Director John Alcorn said police had identified a 14-year-old boy from the Grosse Pointes as the person responsible for this incident. At this point, Alcorn said, it appears that the suspect acted alone.

However, “the investigation is ongoing,” said Alcorn, noting that the teen hadn’t been arrested yet. When the investigation is complete, Alcorn said, the department would be sending its findings to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. The prosecutor will determine what charges the suspect would be facing, he said.

Between roughly 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 30, Grosse Pointe City Public Safety Director John Alcorn said, a male employee of Panera entered the men’s restroom and found a noose fashioned out of paper towels hanging from one of the bathroom stalls. The employee is Black, but it wasn’t clear at press time whether the noose was targeted at him or anyone else; Alcorn said police didn’t find any graffiti or a note in the restroom that might have referenced a specific individual.

Alcorn said police are taking this incident very seriously and are considering this a threat.

“You have to take it seriously because of the heinous nature of the symbol,” Alcorn said. “It’s a symbol of hate, violence and murder.”

The NAACP says that lynchings “were violent public acts that white people used to terrorize and control Black people in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly in the South.”

Records maintained by the NAACP show that more than 4,700 lynchings are estimated to have taken place in the United States between 1882 and 1968, although the actual number is believed to be higher. Of those victims, 72% were Black.

The suspect could be facing hate crime, harassment and other possible charges, Alcorn said.

“It’s disgusting,” Alcorn said. “This is not something that’s welcome.”

The Grosse Pointe City Public Safety Department has reached out to the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods Branch of the NAACP regarding the incident.

“This is something that has been going on since the 1600s and has been embedded in the roots of our ancestors,” said Henry Wilson, the new president of the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods Branch of the NAACP.

Wilson said besides facing repercussions, the suspect involved in this incident might need to be educated about the severity of his actions.

The suspect was among a group of about four white male teens who were in Panera and used the restroom at around the time the noose is believed to have been placed. At press time, Alcorn said police don’t believe the others in the group were involved, but their investigation was still active.

He said a detective was assigned immediately to the case, although other detectives and officers were pitching in as well.

“It’s a holiday weekend, but when it comes to something like this, we come to work,” Alcorn said of the investigation.

Alcorn said this is the first incident of this type in the City in as long as he can recall.

It’s not the first visible demonstration of racism in the Pointes in recent memory. In early 2021, a resident of Wayburn Street in Grosse Pointe Park put a KKK flag in a side window of his home, where it faced the home of a Black family. In June 2020, a curtain cord was transformed into a noose and hung in a classroom at Grosse Pointe South High School in Grosse Pointe Farms.

At the same time, many residents of the Grosse Pointes have vocally condemned racism in recent years. Circa 2016, the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods Branch of the NAACP was founded. Sizable groups of residents of all ages and races took part in a series of peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the Pointes in 2020. In 2021, a historical marker was placed at Grosse Pointe South High School to commemorate a 1968 visit and speech by civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

City officials have expressed outrage over the noose at Panera, which is located in the City’s bustling Village business district.

“The City of Grosse Pointe condemns this act,” Grosse Pointe City Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak said in a prepared statement. “This is a hate crime that is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in our community. The noose, which is a symbol of human oppression and violence, has no place here. Any attempts at racial intimidation will be dealt with to the full extent of the law. The City’s Public Safety Department is investigating this matter.”

Tomkowiak said anyone with more information about this incident should contact the Public Safety Department at (313) 886-3200, ext. 2244. Alcorn said tipsters can remain anonymous.

Because of the suspect’s age, Alcorn said the suspect would likely be facing charges in the Juvenile Division of 3rd Circuit Court.