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Symbolic mass lynching in RVA signals it’s time for grown-ups to step-up

RICHMOND, Va. -- Where is all this angst and division in this land going to take us?

And how will Richmond - which is becoming an epicenter in our cultural war over Confederate monuments and symbols - weather the storm?

"How much longer is this going to last?" asked a soccer coach walking off the fields in Bryan Park Thursday afternoon.

It was a picture perfect day, with dozens of boys sprinting across the manicured fields beside the willow oak tree that had just put Richmond in the national news, again, in a scary way.

The crisp morning had brought the shocking discovery of boy-sized figures in clown and Klan garb dangling from the oak's stately branches, hangman's nooses around their necks.

A symbolic mass lynching.

Richmond police shut down the popular park as it began its investigation of a possible hate crime.

The national art and protest collective, Indecline, quickly took credit with a press release and a beautifully filmed account of how they made, delivered and hung the figures in the signature willow oak beside the playground and soccer fields.

"It was conceptualized in the Spring of 2017 in protest of the White Nationalist uprising in the United States," the release stated. "The activation was carried out in Richmond, Virginia, chosen for its infamous legacy of being the capitol of the Confederate South. It was executed in what is today known as Joseph Bryan Park, the same location of the Gabriel Prosser slave rebellion in 1800."

(Actually, it was where Prosser plotted his rebellion.)

Indecline appears to be a loose collective with plenty of time, money, gumption and a slick website where it hawks its stickers and shirts and shares well-shot videos of artistic acts of activism - or vandalism and trespass, depending on your viewpoint.

They're behind stunts like the naked effigies of Donald Trump in Manhattan, shocking anti-Wall Street billboards (more hanging bodies) and a very expensive painting of an abandoned California airstrip to let us know America is no longer ours.

This strike in Richmond claimed to be in response to the violence in Charlottesville.

It borrowed from clown counter-protests against KKK and white nationalist marches in North Carolina and Europe and even offered a hint of humor, with a sign around one of the dummies' necks saying: "If attacked by a mob of clowns, go for the juggler."

It also occurred practically on the eve of the much-anticipated release of the movie "It," a remake of the classic scary-clown miniseries.

Yes, it could be seen as far less destructive and far more creative than our usual monument defacing.

But child-sized bodies hanging from trees by a playground is hardly fun and games in a state where it really happened.

And we're in an era when even a noose can be considered hateful and intimidating.

"This is not us," said the coach, an African-American who knew me from TV and a church we once shared. Instead of protests, riots, and volatile stunts, "We need to talk to each other."

The vast majority of us, he said, get along just fine.

But this is all part of an era with so many protests, passions, perceived injustices, and rebellion, you have to step up your game - or step into the interstate  - to get noticed.

It's why Greenpeace activists climbed a big T-crane to fly a giant banner near the White House urging us to "Resist."

It's why "anti-fascists" come armed to battle with white nationalists, who are also armed and hungry to dust their knuckles.

Doesn't it feel like a race to see who can get the most attention and stir up the most passion? Look at how righteous we are!

We want a gang fight like the Jets and Sharks in "West Side Story!"

And, no, we don't care that we're giving extra attention to the haters we hate!

The soccer coach and I kicked this around:

It seems every generation has to have something to fight against, fight for, fight with.

It doesn't seem to matter if their actions hurt or confuse their causes.

It's the fight - the splash - that matters, even if it triggers another Civil War or anarchy.

How will Richmond fare?

Just fine, if the grown-ups step up until the kids can grow up a little and be the peace and justice they seek.

Mark Holmberg's Take commentary appears Thursdays on CBS 6 News at 11.

Watch for Mark Holmberg's Take Thursday's on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m.