A length of rope-shaped foam insulation found tied in a loop and left hanging from a piece of construction equipment is being investigated as a possible hate crime, said Evansville Police Chief Patrick Reese.
Police received reports of two such incidents last month at the site where workers are building the new JC McKenna Middle School.
The reports refer to the loops—which some believed were meant to be nooses. One was found dangling from a lift used to raise workers into the air.
JP Cullen & Sons of Janesville is the general contractor on the project, employing a variety of subcontractors at the site.
JP Cullen supervisors reported the incidents to police after a Black subcontractor reported a noose to JP Cullen’s corporate office, according to reports.
The subcontractor told police he had worked with JP Cullen before and never had any problems, but he believed the material hanging from the lift was intended to be a noose, the report states.
“At this time, we do not know of any suspects, who would have done it, what the intent was, when it exactly was done or whom it is directed towards,” the investigating officer wrote about the first incident.
JP Cullen Vice President George Cullen responded to Gazette questions with a statement, which states in part:
“There is absolutely no place in our company for racism or intolerance of any kind. We are looking into the incident involving a racially offensive symbol that was visible at one of our jobsites earlier this month. …
“A subsequent report about a possible second instance has been determined by JP Cullen not be an offensive symbol, but just stored construction materials,” the statement continues. “At the moment we became aware of the offensive symbol, JP Cullen took steps to quickly remove the material.
“JP Cullen has since conducted multiple job-site meetings in which we spoke individually with everyone associated with the project. In meeting with the entire crew, the company clearly communicated to all managers, workers and subcontractors that JP Cullen has zero tolerance for any language, symbols, behavior or acts that could be seen as harassing or discriminatory.”
The reports suggest a construction worker might have been responsible, but Reese said it’s also possible someone climbed over the fence that surrounds the site.
A contractor who worked with the material told police his workers did not attach the noose and there was no reason they would have tied it to the lift that way, police reports say.
Police have no suspects but would follow up if any new information becomes known, Reese said.
The first report was made July 20, but the noose apparently was discovered July 17. The second incident was reported July 24.
Kenny Yarbrough, chief equity, diversity and inclusion officer at UW-Whitewater, said the noose symbolizes the way people were hanged in lynchings.
“The noose has been used as a symbol to leave a threat to intimidate people, specifically people of color,” Yarbrough said.
The NAACP reports 4,743 lynchings in the United States from 1882 to 1968, with 3,446 of the victims being Black. Some scholars believe many more lynchings occurred but were not reported.