‘We good’: Schultz Park neighbors defend Halloween display

Neighborly understanding bridges cultural differences in Lansing

by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (September 26, 2018) – Walter Morales loves Halloween. When he and his family lived in the city, they decorated in the Mexican “Day of the Dead”-style tradition—not pumpkins and fall leaves, but ghoulish corpses and skeletons. “It’s Halloween,” Morales explains. “We wanted to scare people. That’s what Halloween is!”

Having moved to Lansing two years ago, Morales and his wife Edith planned to continue those scary Halloween traditions in their Schultz Park neighborhood. “We love Halloween,” says Pam Peeples, who lives next door to the Morales family. Tomika Cooley—a neighbor down the street—agrees. “Our whole neighborhood goes ALL OUT for Halloween,” she says. “We ALL go all out for Halloween.”

Effective decorating

The Morales family started early. Nearly three weeks ago scary decorations began appearing on the porch, in the bushes, all around the house. Using old clothes, masks, and garbage bags stuffed with cloth, Walter and Edith created life-sized dummies and positioned them to look like dead bodies. Peeples remembers that each time she saw a new Halloween corpse added to the collection, she had to do a double-take. “I was always like, ‘[Gasp] What happened to the neighbors?’—because they really did look real!” she laughs.

The Morales family loves decorating for Halloween. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
“We always decorate like this,” says Walter Morales. “It was never meant to offend. It’s just Halloween.” (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

When Walter added a Halloween corpse to the tree in his parkway, the neighbors got a good scare again. “Every single day—even though I knew it was there—every time I saw that, it scared me!” says Peeples. And she’s quick to add, “Not because it was any kind of racist, just because it was scary! It’s Halloween, and that’s what he wanted—to scare people.”

Culture clash

When the “Jason” mask was stolen from the hanging dummy, Walter Morales didn’t replace it right away. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
The hanging dummy had a “Jason” mask on the garbage-bag face for a couple of days, but some neighborhood kids removed it. The unintended result was that the Halloween dummy took on the look of a hanging black man. When someone posted a photo on Facebook this morning, it was reminiscent of the old photos of lynchings that scar American history. Walter and Edith Morales had no idea that their cultural traditions of making light of death might suddenly be misinterpreted in the light of that history.

So when Edith looked out her door and saw a small crowd of people on her sidewalk snapping photos and shooting video, she wasn’t sure what was going on. “I came out, and everybody was yelling at me to take it down,” she says. “I told them and said no, because I didn’t mean it to be racial, and that was not my intention.” The sun was shining on her while people were recording, and many people—both live and on video—assumed she was a white woman, which added another layer of assumptions.

Edith called the police. The officers responded quickly, and the crowd remained civil. Police went into the house with Edith and explained that people had taken offense to the hanging Halloween dummy. Edith was confused, but she quickly agreed to let the officers remove the dummy. They did, and considered the matter resolved.

Later, possibly in response to misinformation continuing to spread, the Lansing Police Department issued a press release explaining, “Our investigation into this incident revealed no malicious intent and that this was simply a Halloween decoration that had been vandalized.”

Understanding neighbors

The Morales’ neighbors—blacks as well as whites—feel bad that people who don’t know the Morales family jumped to conclusions and sensationalized the situation. Peeples noted that Edith was in tears and Walter was wondering what he could do to correct the assumptions that people were making about him.

“They’re nice people,” said Tamika Cooley, gesturing to the Morales home. “All someone had to do was just one-on-one knock on their door to find out the real story.” She herself had made certain assumptions about the Moraleses, but through conversations she was able to adjust her understanding.

Pam Peeples (left) helped Tamika Cooley (right) understand her next-door neighbors, Edith and Walter Morales. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

“People just started assuming things,” says Edith. “It was a big misunderstanding. They didn’t bother to talk to me about it.”

Walter is hopeful that the social media assumptions won’t damage his relationships in his neighborhood. “My neighbors—they know me,” he says. “They know how I am.”

Peeples said someone asked her how her children felt, walking past the hanging dummy. In answering, she expressed a key to healthy race relations and healthy neighborhoods in Lansing: “It didn’t make them feel any kind of way—because they know their neighbors.”

What does Schultz Park want people to know about what happened? “We good,” says Cooley. “We good over here.”

And Peeples adds, “I love my neighborhood. We love our neighborhood.”

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this news:

10 thoughts on “‘We good’: Schultz Park neighbors defend Halloween display”

  1. I am happy to see that this was an honest mistake. Howevr, we all need to have a basic understanding of our neighbors cultures and experiences. Even with the mask on it is a representation of a true American tragedy. I was alive when Black people were lynched. My grandfather lost a relative. She was never seen again. This was an issue of lack of knowledge and sensitivity. But, ignorance is not an excuse. And a Black figure hanging from a tree is indefensible.

    • It’s helpful to understand that Mexican history is not the same as United States history, and that contributes to our different ideas about death. Let me use an analogy: Imagine if you spent the winter in Mexico, and you celebrated Christmas by putting a Christmas tree in your yard. One morning you find a crowd of people in your lawn demanding that you take it down. You would be confused and potentially offended by their reaction—after all, you have the right to celebrate Christmas any way you want! But then imagine that one of them explained to you that pine trees are a phallic symbol in Mexico! (They’re not; I’m just using that as an example.) With that understanding, you would be more likely to change the way you celebrate Christmas.

      I think that’s what happened in this situation. A Mexican tradition of making fun of death clashed with a painful Black reality. People felt the sting and responded quickly because we never want to go back to that era of our history again. And in our rush to correct, we made some assumptions that could have inflamed the situation.

      Community is built when we realize that our own culture is not the only truth, and when that realization makes us willing to accommodate each other’s experiences.

  2. So relieved to see this was a mistake. I accept it. Sorry this family was misinderstood. I too live in the neighborhood. They obviously didn’t know the history if the school.they live across the street from. Until a few years ago the school flag was that confederate flag. This was truly a cultural sensitivity issue.

  3. I am glad that this is resolved; this is a very nice block with nice neighbors that look out for one another; the reason I know is because my sister lives there and when ever I visit the neighbors are always friendly.

  4. Unfortunately due to the climate today, too many are ready to jump to conclusions regarding others. We need to stop and embrace each other and our community. Lansing is a wonderfully diverse community. There are many who want to tear it down and tear us apart. We cannot allow this to happen.

  5. I personally love the Schultz area the people are kind and friendly I don’t believe there was any racism concerning the hanging man I believe it was an image of Jason I thought it was great plus i’ve seen a lot of movies of Jason so please stop the racism act everything is not about race we live in a beautiful area let’s keep it that way. Our Mayer goes out of her way to make things better for us over here and I appreciate that. Just saying.

  6. The person who posted the “Halloween decoration” and started the racial storm. You need to apologize to the Morales family and the town of Lansing.

  7. I don’t live in Lansing anymore but was sent this article. I agree whoever started this by posting in social media needs to apologize to the family. You DONT have to post every little thing on social media but if you do you need to consider the consequences of your actions first.

  8. Melanie Jongsma: “Community is built when we realize our own culture is not the only truth, and that realization makes us willing to accommodate each others’ experiences.” Yes. This. I am so glad the neighborhood came together for understanding and support. I was afraid I would see this incident on the news, reflecting misinformation about the community of Lansing.

Comments are closed.