A single wooden chair suspended from the limb of a small tree in rural Templeton has prompted at least two people to call it a blatant act of racism. Others say it could be a prank by trespassers.
Whatever it is, chairs hanging from trees have become a nationwide debate this election season on whether they’re innocent references to Clint Eastwood's empty-chair rant at the Republican National Convention or symbolic lynchings of America's first African-American president, the Associated Press recently reported.
Until Thursday, the Templeton chair hung, tipped slightly askew mid-air, behind a series of mailboxes on the corner of a 45-acre lot for sale at South El Pomar and Rancho roads. There’s no home on the property and landowner Patricia Johnson, who lives elsewhere, told The Tribune she believes teenagers are behind the stunt.
“We’ve had kids steal out of our mail boxes and (damage) fences and don’t report it. I think it’s a prank,” Johnson said. She had the chair taken down Thursday morning after learning the media was looking into the matter.
Gina Whitaker, Social Justice Chair of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Luis Obispo County, said the chair was offensive. She was emailed a photo of it from a passerby.
“This is an act of bigotry and racism and hatred, not to mention disrespect to our president,” Whitaker said. “No matter what one's political leanings, there is no excuse for this kind of ugliness.”
Johnson said she had received requests to take the chair down before from someone who believed it was a hate crime. But Johnson said she saw no merit in that theory.
When asked, neighbors in the immediate area - about 10 miles east of town - said the chair popped up in the last few weeks. Although some found it curious, most didn’t take offense to it. One neighbor, for example, said, to her the chair represented President Barack Obama’s inaction in his present term while another neighbor thought the chair was hung for Halloween.
Johnson scoffed when she heard that the hanging empty chair phenomenon has ties to political statements about the president.
“The less credence people put on that kind of stuff, the better,” she said.