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Noose at SF highrise reaffirms lockout of Blacks from construction

July 9, 2018

by Dr. Willie and Mary Ratcliff

Civil rights attorney John Burris holds a press conference for construction workers Craig Ogans and Douglas Russell to report the nooses, racist graffiti and death threats designed to scare them off the job on a highrise being built by Clark Construction. The third complainant, Don’ta Laury, was unable to attend. – Photo: CBS

Construction is booming in San Francisco. Overhead, cranes create a new skyline, and underground, new tunnels are dug to transport a burgeoning population – everything is under construction!

But the fact that Blacks, once a major part of the construction workforce, are still locked out 20 years after the lockout was signaled by a noose on the multi-million-dollar project my company, Liberty Builders, was performing at SFO, is largely the cause of the mass exodus of Blacks from San Francisco.

High construction wages used to enable Black families to afford the city’s astronomical cost of living. Losing those jobs and contracts meant leaving San Francisco.

“Three African-American construction workers said this week that they were targeted by racial slurs and death threats, including black dolls hanging from nooses in the bathroom, while working on the site of a San Francisco high-rise,” reported the New York Times after renowned civil rights attorney John Burris, who’s representing the workers, held a June 21 press conference. That the issue is important enough for a major story in the New York Times will, we hope, catch the attention of the powers that be in San Francisco.

The three men, Craig Ogans, Douglas Russell and Don’ta Laury, were all crane operators by trade who had been hired to run the elevators on the 43-story highrise under construction at 250 Howard St. in the financial district. Imagine how real a death threat could feel when you’re 43 stories up.

This is Park Tower at Transbay, at 250 Howard St., across the street from the Transbay Terminal. It is expected to house Facebook. – Photo: KTVU

“I got really, really fearful that, you know, I’m working in a hostile environment,” Ogans told reporters Thursday at Burris’ law office in Oakland, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “I started to fear for my safety.” Bay City News reports via NBC that he broke out in hives and is now undergoing therapy.

Clark Construction is building the highrise, called Park Tower, across the street from the new Transbay Terminal – its major tenant expected to be Facebook. In his complaint against Clark made to the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment, Douglas Russell wrote:

“When I first started at this site, I immediately noticed that there was some racial tension, as I started seeing racial writings/pictures in the various bathrooms on the site. For example, I saw writings referring to ‘kill niggers,’ ‘stupid niggers,’ ‘dumb niggers’ and other disparaging terms for Blacks/African Americans. I immediately reported it to Sam, my superintendent at the time, but nothing happened, as these writings remained on the walls.”

At Burris’s press conference, he said, “The day I started working there I saw racial slurs all over the windows, the toilets, anywhere they could write,” according to KGO.

“Three African-American construction workers said this week that they were targeted by racial slurs and death threats, including black dolls hanging from nooses in the bathroom, while working on the site of a San Francisco high-rise,” reported the New York Times.

Russell told Bay City News that one worker swung at him and another worker pulled a knife on him but he said Clark managers didn’t take his complaints seriously and “laughed in my face.” He added in his complaint: “I immediately reported the incident to my superiors and requested that they call the police. They reluctantly called the police almost 5 hours later. I waited for the police to show up and when they did not show up before my shift ended, I was forced to go to the police station on June 9, 2018 (the next day), to file a police report.”

Clark Construction ignored nooses, including these with dolls hanging from them, and “racial slurs all over the windows, the toilets, anywhere they could write,” report Douglas Russell and two other Black construction workers. – Photo: NBC

Russell also reported incidents involving nooses in his complaint: “On April 27, 2018, two black dolls were hanging in the restroom on the 1st floor with a racial note attached to it mentioning both my name and Mr. Ogans’ name.

“It is my understanding that this is not the first time that a noose was found on this Clark Construction site. For example, a few weeks after I began working at the Clark Construction site, I witnessed, Justin, a Clark Construction employee, get onto the elevator with a noose in his hand. Justin would not allow me to photograph or videotape the noose that I saw in his possession.”

“It is my understanding that this is not the first time that a noose was found on this Clark Construction site.”

“I am scared for my life,” Russell wrote, “because I do not view these incidents as harmless. I was once physically attacked by multiple people at a previous job site, so I know that this situation can escalate from verbal to physical. Moreover, I should not have to put up with this in 2018 in America.”

Craig Ogans points to a photo of the Black dolls in nooses, recalling the trauma he felt on first seeing dolls with his name and his colleague’s in a death threat: “Kill Nigger Craig” and “Kill Nigger Dougie.”

Reporting the same incident, Craig Ogans wrote in his complaint to DFHE: “The situation reached a boiling point on April 27, 2018, wherein while I was attempting to use the bathroom on the 1st floor, I saw two black dolls hanging by nooses in the restroom with the words ‘Kill Nigger Craig’ and ‘Kill Nigger Dougie.’ I videotaped the dolls hanging in the restroom. I believe the dolls were planted to intimidate me and force me to quit the job.”

Burris notes, “It is shameful that in this day and age we have this kind of activity taking place, but it speaks to the fact that there’s an undercurrent of significant racism, particularly in environments like this where there’s a competition for their job.” Competition can be cut-throat in construction, the only common working class job that can support a family in San Francisco. Pressure on the technology industry to diversify seemed to be working, but in the past several years, Black techies have almost disappeared too, just like construction workers.

The third complainant, Don’ta Laury, wrote that in addition to racist graffiti saying “fuck a stinky black nigger” and “stinky smelly niggers,” “In January/February 2018, I saw a noose that someone had hung at the job site. It is my understanding that the individual who hung the noose was simply transferred to another location.

“From August 2017 to sometime in February 2018, I was the only Black operator. As such, I would try to avoid the talks I heard about myself and ignore the racial writings. People would continually approach me and try to discuss the racial writings, but I just ignored them and continued to do my job. People would constantly say things such as, ‘Why are you here?’ ‘How did you get a job here?’  ‘You Black niggers don’t belong here!’

“Even after I complained, racist writings would appear and they seemed to be in just about every restroom. All of these writings, combined with the constant chatter, have made me very fearful for my life, but I have a family to support and cannot afford to leave my job.”

Clark Construction

“Burris said he will soon file a lawsuit against Clark Construction not only seeking financial damages, but also to send a message that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated at any construction site,” reports the Chronicle.

This death threat clearly targets the third Black highrise elevator operator, Don’ta Laury, though the perpetrator misspelled his name.

“‘It is inconceivable to me and to us that the leadership at Clark Construction was unaware of this activity,’ Burris said. ‘But at the very least they could have wiped (the racist graffiti) off the walls on a daily basis.’”

Henry Lee of KTVU, who asked construction workers on other sites about the complaints against Clark, writes that this is not the first time Clark has ignored racism against Blacks on one of its construction sites: “Troy Reagan says he was fired by Clark Construction after coming forward with allegations of harassment.

“‘The management, they’re not paying attention closely to what’s going on on the job site,’ Reagan said.

“‘They have a lot of racial issues going on. They have a lot of African Americans who were hired – and fired – from this company.’

“Clark Construction says it ordered a job-wide stand-down after both incidents to meet with all workers and subcontractors.

“In a statement, the company said, ‘Clark believes in the dignity of every employee and is committed to providing all employees with a work environment that is free of discrimination or harassment of any kind.’”

But how sincere is Clark? Because Clark Construction is headquartered in Maryland, the New York Times story on reports of its racism in San Francisco caught the attention of the Baltimore Afro-American, one of the oldest and most venerated Black newspapers in the country. “It’s not the first time the symbol of racial intimidation and violence has been tracked back to the company,” observes the Afro-American, and here’s why.

“Burris said he will soon file a lawsuit against Clark Construction not only seeking financial damages, but also to send a message that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated at any construction site,” reports the Chronicle.

“Less than two years ago, Clark Construction said it was ‘committed to maintaining a work environment that respects all employees and does not tolerate any action of this type on its projects,’ according to the Washington Post.

“The report in the Post came after nooses were discovered at a Clark Construction site Nov. 28, 2016, according to the company’s vice president at the time, Matt Haas. During the incident in 2016, the company conducted an investigation and determined the nooses were traced back to a subcontractor who was terminated from the project, according to Haas. Then the company said they conducted a series of discussions with personnel after the incident to ‘underscore Clark’s zero tolerance policy for such action, which will result in immediate termination,’ Haas told the Post.

“After the recent reports of racist intimidation in San Francisco, Clark said ‘it is implementing a number of new initiatives, including working with the NAACP San Francisco Chapter to provide cultural sensitivity training for site employees, and producing new jobsite signage that promotes respect and tolerance and encourages workers to report any and all incidents of harassment,’ the company said in a statement.”

The New York Times notes: “Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group for equality in the workplace, said that race-based discrimination and harassment have increased in recent years. Ms. Clarke said nearly identical instances of harassment, including nooses and racial slurs, have been reported recently nationwide.”

On the Park Tower jobsite, all 43 stories of it, racist graffiti like this appeared in most if not all the bathrooms and on nearly every available surface. Clark Construction’s top officials must see it when they visit this extremely prominent edifice that will soon be home to Facebook. Clark knew but took no action until the Black workers went to attorney John Burris, and his press conference caught the attention of the New York Times.

“Throughout my time working at this Clark Construction site, it felt like there was a concerted effort to drive out the Black workers,” said Craig Ogans, one of the San Francisco complainants. Ogans says he was fired for refusing at a meeting to shake the hand of the man he considers responsible for much of the harassment against him. He was transferred to a lower paying job.

John Burris says: “Clark Construction has a duty to provide a safe working environment in San Francisco that is free from racial animus, intimidation and harassment. African American men should be able to earn a day’s pay without fear of racial hostility or physical or emotional harm.”

Clark Construction has failed these men, Burris says, adding that the “constant barrage of racial slurs” they had to endure reflects “a venomous, fundamental hatred toward these men and African Americans in general.”

According to Bay City News, “Clark said it also ‘took further steps to ensure that the hundreds of individuals who work on the 250 Howard Street job were made aware that harassment is not and will not be tolerated,’ such as holding anti-harassment and discrimination awareness training and conducting project-wide meetings to review its anti-harassment policy.

“In addition, Clark said it is working with the San Francisco chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to provide cultural sensitivity training for employees at the site.”

“’I shouldn’t be subjected to this stuff just for a job,’ said construction worker Craig Ogans. ‘Come on now, this is 2018,’” he declared, according to KGO.

Legacy of the noose at the airport

Bay City News reports, “Ogans and Russell said they called San Francisco police to report the threats they received, but Burris said he’s not sure how seriously they are investigating the matter.”

The noose at SFO in September 1998, 20 years ago, was investigated by San Francisco police, too, but they decided it was not a hate crime. The NAACP was very involved then too, but under the leadership of legendary civil rights attorney Alex Pitcher, they were pushing for prosecution.

Anticipating a lockout and knowing that excluding Black contractors from competition would put Black construction workers out of work because they are rarely hired and retained by white contractors, Pitcher worked feverishly for over a year to reopen the door to construction for Blacks in San Francisco. Suddenly, cancer returned, and he died trying.

Bay City News reports, “Ogans and Russell said they called San Francisco police to report the threats they received, but Burris said he’s not sure how seriously they are investigating the matter.”

But now, in San Francisco, there’s a new sheriff in town, so to speak – actually, a new Black mayor, London Breed, elected with the solid backing of the Black community. By enforcing the anti-discrimination laws already on the books, she can bring a new generation of Blacks into the workforce.

She is two generations younger than Alex Pitcher and didn’t witness lynchings in Louisiana as he did, but if he were here, he’d tell her: “A noose is a terrorist threat. It has no place in San Francisco.

“Blacks are the master builders who built the White House and most of the rest of the country. Let them build San Francisco again. Invite them to come home and build a San Francisco that puts justice into practice.”

Bay View publisher and editor Dr. Willie and Mary Ratcliff can be reached at editor@sfbayview.com or 415-671-0789.

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2 thoughts on “Noose at SF highrise reaffirms lockout of Blacks from construction

  1. zack lee

    I was going through your blog when I found some useful information. I have to say that the quality of content is superb. Saw your post, Well it’s a very well reviewed post and is finely explained as well. your article attract me so well. I will read more your blogs and share with my friends and family."Frank Castle The Punisher Jacket

    Reply
  2. Michael Cooper

    People know that racism is alive and well in America. Black Americans/DOS must get into their heads that we have no friends from other groups and shared-complexion (from groups like African and Caribbean immigrants) doesn't mean solidarity. We all we got and it's imperative that we support and back one another in the DOS community.

    Reply

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