Black Electrician Testifies About Noose Incident
One of the four African American electricians who found a noose on the floor at the construction site of the Washington Nationals stadium testified yesterday that a white coworker picked up the rope and jokingly held it next to his own neck.
Keith Battle, who spoke publicly for the first time since last week’s incident, said the co-worker then threw the rope back onto the break room floor. Battle used his cellphone camera to take a picture of the yellow rope. He then reported it to a foreman, who told him he should not be offended.
“He said, ‘I wouldn’t pay that any attention,’ ” Battle recalled. “He said people can hang them all down the street and he wouldn’t pay them any attention as long as they didn’t hang it on a tree at my house. I said: ‘This is my house. I work here.’ ”
Battle, an electrician for Truland Systems, described the incident during a round-table session held by D.C. Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), head of the Economic Development Committee. It was attended by about 100 people, some of whom spoke about the noose’s place in the country’s history of lynching.
Brown’s committee oversees the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which is supervising the ballpark construction. In addition to Battle, more than 20 people testified, including residents, electrical subcontractors and top officials of the sports commission and Truland Systems.
Truland officials said that in addition to the worker who made the noose, three other employees had been fired. The company identified them in a document about the investigation released by Brown.
Brian Thomas, the electrician who held the rope to his neck, and Mike Cooper, the foreman, were terminated, as well as a worker who was in the break room when the noose was found. That worker, Stephen White, said in an interview last week that it was a “stupid little prank” that began when the electrician who made the noose, Larry Cross, threw it at him and called it a “necktie.”
Brown said he was infuriated and might ask the city to remove the Reston-based electrical company from the stadium project if it is determined that Truland has a pattern of discriminatory practices. He also criticized the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26 for not participating in yesterday’s discussion.
“There is nothing funny about a noose, which is a symbol of hatred,” Brown said. “It should not be tolerated.”
Gregory A. O’Dell, head of the sports commission, said, “The commission has made it clear that such actions will not be tolerated.”
The noose incident happened less than two months after five African American electricians said the union determined that they had been wrongfully fired. Although they told of several derogatory remarks, they focused on one they said was made by a foreman: that a “monkey” could do their jobs.
Norval Scott, who was fired in October, said Truland is a “milliondollar bully” with a history of discrimination against minorities in areas including overtime pay.
The company’s chairman, Robert Truland, said he recognized that it looked like a pattern, but he adamantly denied any wrongdoing. Truland’s 1,300-member workforce is 48 percent minority, and the noose incident is unacceptable, he said. “We consider this to be distressing,” he said. “I am deeply saddened.”
Truland said the company will provide sensitivity training to reinforce its policy of zero tolerance for discrimination, and statements will be included in paychecks this week.
Officials from two minorityowned electrical companies, Otis Miller, owner of Titus Electric, and Earl Mitchell, owner of City General, testified that Truland had helped them secure subcontracting jobs. Mitchell said that he worked for Truland in 1962 and that it was one of the first companies to hire minorities. “Truland has a good heart for minorities,” Mitchell said, adding that Robert Truland has adopted minority children.
Brown said he will meet with officials of Truland and the stadium general contractors, Clark/Hunt/ Smoot, over the next 30 days to determine what steps the companies can take to ensure that more District residents, especially minorities, are trained to work in construction.