Black Elec­tri­cian Tes­ti­fies About Noose In­ci­dent

The Washington Post - - The Region - By Yolanda Woodlee

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.

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