Nooses found at Merck, Princeton U construction sites

Dive Brief:

  • A second noose was discovered last week at Merck’s $105.4 million, federally funded renovation site near Durham, North Carolina, where it is retrofitting a plant to manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. Redwood City, California-based DPR Construction and Blue Bell, Pennsylvania-based IPS-Integrated Project Services are listed as contractors on the building permits for the Merck facility.
  • In addition, a noose was discovered earlier this week at a construction site at Princeton University, according to NJ Advance Media. It was unclear exactly when and where the noose was found and a spokesman said the school could not release any further information Wednesday night as the incident remained under investigation.
  • “Princeton vehemently deplores this appalling act of hate – the university has zero-tolerance for racist and harmful actions such as this,” the spokesman told the news outlet.

Dive Insight:

In response to similar incidents, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed into law June 11 a bill that criminalizes the display of a noose with the intent to intimidate, after several nooses were found at Oregon Health and Science University last year, including at a joint construction site with Portland State University. Passed as a Class A misdemeanor, offenses are punishable by up to 364 days in jail, a fine of up to $6,250 or both. 

While federal hate crime laws can be applied to the display of nooses, the Justice Department doesn’t specifically call them out on its hate crimes page. Oregon now joins Louisiana, Virginia, California, New York, Maryland and Connecticut, which all have laws targeting nooses. 

“We must truly understand the reality of our nation’s past, and the tools of intimidation used to sow fear and panic in communities of color,” said Oregon Rep. Ricki Ruiz, a sponsor of the Oregon bill, in a statement emailed to Construction Dive. “A noose is a symbol that has also been used as a threat of violence and triggers a lot of trauma to our [Black, Indigenous and other people of color] communities.”

At the Merck site in North Carolina, a second noose was found June 7, according to the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper, after a first noose was found May 24. The Durham County Sheriff’s Office is investigating, but told the newspaper there was insufficient evidence to determine if the incident was motivated by bias or hate.

A spokesperson for DPR, when asked by Construction Dive how it is responding to the incidents, referred the question back to Merck. IPS didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We are outraged that symbols of hate have been found in construction areas at our Durham, North Carolina plant,” said Patrick Ryan, a Merck spokesperson, in an email to Construction Dive.  “We are fully investigating what happened and are cooperating with authorities. We are fully committed to creating and sustaining a fully inclusive work environment for all of our colleagues built on our values of mutual respect, inclusion and diversity.”

The discovery follows the placing of eight nooses at an Amazon construction site in Connecticut since April. The continuing emergence of racist symbols on jobsites has challenged construction companies and their clients, as the industry has strived to be more inclusive of women and people of color in recent years in order to attract much needed workers to the sector, and in the wake of widespread racial justice protests.  

At the same time, the industry is also trying to focus on workers’ physical and emotional safety, to shed the tough guy image of working on a construction site that can be intimidating to new applicants. Turner Construction, now the largest contractor in the country, has worked to address racist incidents on its jobsites, while promoting worker wellness.

In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified racism as a serious public health threat. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky noted in a statement that racism goes beyond discrimination to encompass structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups at home and at work.

“These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color,” she said.

For more context on racist incidents in the construction industry, see Construction Dive’s in-depth racism series.