The incidents reviewed by The Post involved at least 55 nooses and spanned 17 states, plus the District and Toronto, and several marquee projects: a Merck vaccine facility in North Carolina; campus expansions at Princeton and Johns Hopkins; a luxury shopping center in New Jersey; Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters; and a Facebook data center in Iowa. In some cases, multiple nooses were found at the same site.
The symbolism is unambiguous, harking back to the days when the “threats of violence replaced slavery” as a tool of social control against Black Americans, said Lydia Bates, a Ku Klux Klan expert with the Southern Poverty Law Center. It evokes America’s ugly history of lynching, when the noose was an implement of terror and murder used primarily against Black people, particularly in the South, after the Civil War and well into the 20th century.
The incidents offer a window into an industry that Wendell Stemley, director emeritus of the National Association of Minority Contractors, says has “deep roots in segregation,” when Black workers were relegated to menial jobs with almost no path for advancement. In his view, the incidents signify the lack of inclusion of Black people in construction, who make up 6 percent of the workforce — versus 12 percent of all U.S. workers — and about 1.2 percent of its business owners.
“The mission of the noose isn’t that ‘I’m going to hang you at lunchtime,’” he said. “The mission of the noose is that you are excluded.”
In at least three instances, a noose was literally looped around a worker’s neck, The Post’s review shows, while others were drawn on safety signs or used to hang dolls depicting Black people. Some incidents occurred on historically significant days, such as Juneteenth or the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech.
Amazon, Facebook and Apple, or their contractors have all had nooses show up on major construction sites in recent years. Some incidents trigged work stoppages on projects employing hundreds, even thousands, of workers.
Though Facebook declined a request for an interview, spokesman Joe Osborne told The Post that the Responsible Business Alliance Code of Conduct, which includes provisions about nondiscrimination, is included in its master construction agreements. He also said “anonymous reporting channels” are in place at all Facebook worksites and that the company has zero tolerance for harassment.
Apple also declined an interview request but said in an emailed statement that “racist behavior is entirely unacceptable on any work site” and that it expects “the highest standards of ethical conduct for all vendors at all times.”
Though the financial implications vary — from lost wages to project delays — Bates said such harassment has a cumulative cost, affecting the “emotional, psychological and physical well-being of entire communities.”
On April 20, Kyrin Taylor arrived for his 7:30 a.m. shift at Cooper Power & Lighting Corp. in Farmingdale, N.Y., and found two co-workers standing in the tool room next to a noose. Stunned, the 23-year-old apprentice wireman took pictures and video while his co-workers silently watched, he alleged in a complaint filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights and in an interview with The Post.
The noose “made me think that they were telling me they would kill me,” said Taylor, who is Black. “Or that they were telling me to kill myself.”
Though fearful, Taylor said, he decided to do his job. But when no effort was made to remove the noose — it was still up hours later after he returned from a delivery — he called police.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” he said.
His boss reprimanded Taylor for calling law enforcement before coming to him, Taylor alleges in the complaint, which accuses the company of discrimination and creating a hostile work environment. Though Taylor’s boss told police he knew who tied the noose, according to the complaint, he tried to shield the employee because he didn’t want to “mess up” his apprenticeship.
When Taylor returned to work the next day, he said he ended up working shoulder to shoulder with the worker who tied the noose. He quit after his shift.
“I felt I was unwelcome and unwanted as a young Black man,” he says in the complaint.
Cooper Power & Lighting Corp. did not respond to a request for comment from The Post. But in a letter to Taylor’s attorney, the company’s legal team, Canfield Ruggiero LLP, said the incident was “isolated in nature, and not part of any ongoing pattern of behavior in the workplace.” It also said the employees involved were fired “promptly.” Canfield Ruggiero did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.
The letter asserted that Taylor did not “take advantage of reasonably available opportunities to complain.” But he and his lawyer, Frederick K. Brewington, dispute that, telling The Post that Taylor raised concerns with management multiple times after earlier incidents, allegedly involving racist comments and intimidation.
Taylor said he was the sole Black employee at the time. In court documents, Cooper Power claimed there were others, but Taylor contends he’s never met or heard of any.
Brewington said Taylor’s is the fourth noose case he’s handled in his more than 30 years as a civil rights attorney in Long Island. He has yet to see an arrest made. “If it happens now, I think it will be the first time,” he said. “People are fairly quick to dismiss other people’s pain.”
Brewington practices in one of the few states where displaying a noose is a crime; California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Oregon and Virginia are the others. Even so, he said, because there’s no clear definition of what constitutes a hate crime, he’s found that police are reluctant to categorize incidents as being racially motivated, even in the face of clear evidence.
Taylor found another wiring position through his union but left after about a week. The workforce was more diverse, he said, but he still felt like an outsider. He hasn’t found another job and said Cooper Power is opposing his claims for unemployment benefits.
He says he’s traumatized by what happened, has nightmares and doesn’t get out much anymore. And he no longer sees a future for himself in construction.
“I just see everything a little differently,” Taylor said. “I don’t want to go places that make me feel uncomfortable, so I don’t go anywhere.”
‘Is this what people … think of me?’
Of the dozens of noose incidents in the United States reviewed by The Post, only one arrest has been made: In June, Thomas McDermott of Rotterdam, N.Y., was charged with aggravated harassment, a Class E felony, for allegedly hanging a crudely made figure from a twine noose at a D.A. Collins construction site.
A Black employee discovered the figure — “a brown, rusted steel ball” with “screws for eyes” and a body made of duct tape — when he bumped into it while searching for a rake, court documents show. In his 10 years with the company, he’d never seen anything like it, he told police.
“Is this what people at the job site think of me?” the worker asked, according to the statement his supervisor gave police.
D.A. Collins and an attorney for the company did not respond to requests from The Post.
The supervisor quickly removed the noose and contacted authorities. McDermott turned himself in soon after, police reports show. His attorney, James Knox, did not respond to a request for comment, but the clerk for the Rotterdam Town Court said McDermott pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance. His next court appearance is Aug. 23.
Penalties for displaying a noose vary by state but max out at five years in prison. The building industry’s efforts to police itself are largely confined to initiatives like “Safe From Hate,” a coalition of contractors, union leaders, trade groups and other stakeholders. It began with a “jobsite culture pledge,” which includes commitments to zero tolerance and improving diversity in recruiting and leadership.
“Positive jobsite culture is good for our industry’s bottom line,” the pledge reads. “It minimizes work stoppages and lost time, improves performance, supports safety protocols, enhances employee engagement, supports retention of a skilled workforce, increases health and wellness of workers and increases overall productivity.”
Safe From Hate was created in 2020 after local organizations pressed Andersen Construction for answers about a noose incident on a worksite at Portland State University in May. According to Oregon Tradeswomen, a nonprofit that recruits and trains women for the trades, when a female apprentice of color reported the noose to a foreman at TCM Corp., an Andersen subcontractor, she was told it was “probably a joke” and no action was taken. The apprentice later removed the noose herself, the group said in a letter to Andersen.
Neither Andersen nor TCM Corp. responded to requests from The Post. It took almost three weeks for Andersen executives to learn of the noose incident at the university, CEO Joel Andersen told Oregon’s Daily Journal of Commerce.
Maura Kelly is a sociologist at Portland State University who has been studying racism in the construction industry for a decade. She’s also been working with Safe From Hate to develop strategies to enhance diversity in recruitment and retention.
Routine harassment ranks among the top reasons workers — particularly women and people of color — leave the industry, Kelly said. On hectic, crowded job sites, she said, it’s not hard for targeted persecution to play out covertly.
“There’s something about these behaviors where the perpetrator isn’t immediately identifiable,” Kelly said. “If you’re hanging a noose or leaving racist graffiti in a port-a-potty, there’s more of a chance that you won’t be held accountable as opposed to if you just said something to someone.”
The Post’s analysis parallels enforcement data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency told The Post it received at least 50 complaints involving nooses in the construction industry from 2015 to 2020. Several cases ended in five- and six-figure settlements.
The rash of noose incidents coincided with both a rise in hate crimes — which in the United States hit a decade high in 2019, according to the most recent FBI data available — and a racial justice movement that galvanized the business world, eliciting promises to better reflect the communities they serve.
But Kelly says there is “a lot of denial” in the industry that a problem exists. In 2020, her survey of more than 500 Oregon apprentices found that more than 1 in 5 men of color reported experiencing discrimination in the past year. For women of color, it was 1 in 4.
She also believes the sector’s intense deadline pressures fuel resistance to any action that could interrupt work, including efforts to combat harassing behavior. Instead, victims often pay the price, whether they speak up or not.
“When you have a culture where things aren’t going to be reported and no one is going to get in trouble, that really creates a space where people feel like it is acceptable to engage in these kinds of behaviors,” she said.
Kelly’s research connects the sector’s lack of diversity and retention to systemic lapses: Underrepresented groups often miss out on mentorship and training opportunities, she found, and are more likely to be assigned menial tasks like flagging or cleanup instead of being able to develop skills that could advance their careers. They are less likely to make the kinds of personal connections crucial to consistent employment and tend to accrue job hours more slowly than their White male counterparts. The latter dictates when they advance from apprentice to journeyman, for which there is a significant difference in pay.
The U.S. construction industry is worth more than $1.5 trillion, according to ResearchandMarkets.com. Of the sector’s nearly 10.8 million workers, just 647,000 are Black, federal data show, a reflection of a steady decline that began during the Great Recession.
While the sector is predominantly White — including 96 percent of all company owners — nearly a third of its workforce is Latino, a demographic category that refers to ethnicity, not race. Latino workers also are frequent targets of slurs and other harassment, Kelly said, but generally fare better than Black workers in terms of opportunity and advancement.
Michael Russell, 56, has felt “the tension of low expectations” while leading H.J. Russell & Co., which helped shape Atlanta’s skyline, and is one of the nation’s largest Black-owned construction companies.
“You almost have to be better than your White peers,” the chief executive says. “You have less room for error.”
Since George Floyd’s murder last year in Minneapolis attached new urgency to issues of race and equality, Russell said there is growing recognition of the industry’s dearth of diversity after decades of what he calls a “lackluster response.”
“I do see more intentionality in firms trying to reach out and find a diverse workforce,” Russell said. “The question is, will it last?”
Those with the hiring power tend to gravitate to people they know and with whom they socialize, Russell said. If contractors want more diversity, they need to spend more time at institutions with Black student bases. “Just be more deliberate,” he said.
Stemley, of the NAMC, said that even well-intentioned companies get pulled into “passive discrimination” if their diversity and inclusion standards are imprecise. Inaction, hollow policies and lack of oversight are “a recipe for exclusion.”
He referenced the eight nooses found last spring at the Amazon construction site in Windsor, Conn. On such a big project — the fulfillment center is estimated to cost $230 million — work is being delegated to scores of developers, vendors, suppliers and contractors who may not share the company’s views, Stemley said.
R.C. Andersen, the primary contractor at Windsor, did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Post.
Amazon declined an interview request but said in a statement that it was “assessing the performance and management” of its developer and general contractor to ensure they are “maintaining the standards expected of an Amazon project.”
“We will make any appropriate changes to this project, including reevaluating our partnerships, to ensure these high standards,” company spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said in an email. Amazon — whose founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post — is offering a $100,000 reward for information that helps identify those responsible for the incidents, which investigators are treating as possible hate crimes.
Security upgrades, work stoppages and company statements had little effect at the Windsor facility. The eighth noose was found a day after the site reopened with cameras and hours before NAACP representatives were scheduled to interview workers about their experiences at the site.
The Rev. Larry Bullock, president and chief executive of the U.S. Minority Contractors Association, said he spends his days worrying about “invisible nooses” in the construction industry.
Bullock, who is Black, says too many companies circumvent diversity and inclusion requirements by either skirting statutes or budgeting for fines for failing to meet them. He also lists the lack of expertise, lack of capital and struggles with labor management relations as some of the greatest obstacles for minority-owned firms in construction.
The migration of apprentice programs outside of urban areas has dampened diversity efforts, he said, as has the elimination of school curriculums that gave Black youths an earlier introduction to the trades. All this makes it difficult to hire “youth that look like us,” he said.
“It’s a vicious, vicious cycle of trying to address the systematic racism in construction,” Bullock said. “And it is a culture.”
The Post reached out to eight companies that experienced noose incidents in the past year. Most declined to comment or did not respond.
But Darien Grant, vice president and general manager of New York City-based Turner Construction, said that while he couldn’t speak directly to the four cases that occurred at company worksites, “one incident is too many.”
Grant, who is Black, said Turner has been proactive in communicating the expectations for conduct to its 110,000 workers across the country. He said it suspended work multiple times in 2020 to hold mandatory anti-bias training in the wake of racist incidents, including nooses, at job sites. In August, “racially motivated damage” was done to the office of a Black supervisor on a $1.4 billion Las Vegas Convention Center project.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that it’s not enough to quietly disagree, to paint over racist graffiti or send a letter to someone’s office,” Grant said. “We must openly condemn the action and take care of those individuals who have been impacted by the event.”
When a possible bias-motivated event occurs, the supervisor is supposed to notify Grant. A local team is sent to the site to investigate, support victims and, if needed, work with police, he said.
It’s essential to foster a culture where employees feel secure speaking up, Grant said. But broader cultural progress requires collaboration, he said, which is why Turner is partnering with other major contractors, such as Mortenson, McCarthy, DPR and Clark Construction to develop better practices for stamping out hate.
“It starts with us,” Grant said. “We have to look in the mirror to make sure we’re holding ourselves accountable.”
Andrew Van Dam and Alice Crites contributed to this report.