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NAACP says threat to Black workers at Amazon construction site not taken seriously

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Amazon and law enforcement are not doing enough to protect Black workers at a construction site in Windsor, Connecticut, where an eighth noose was found earlier this week, according to the state NAACP. 

"This investigation is a lot of smoke and mirrors," Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP, told CBS MoneyWatch on Friday. 

Esdaile said Black workers who found the nooses told him they had not been interviewed by investigators nor spoken to by Amazon. "They haven't talked to them at all, the people who found the nooses — it was a direct message to them that we want to kill you," he said of the symbol of racially motivated lynchings that occurred in the U.S. into the first half of the 20th century.

Windsor Police Chief Donald Melanson said officers have spoken to more than 100 employees at the site, including formal interviews with dozens of workers. 

"We're definitely focused on those that found them," Melanson said Friday. His department has also reached out to the NAACP, but the organization had not referred any workers, so police are getting conflicting reports, he said. 

"No workers who've come to us to say they feel targeted," making the hate crime probe more difficult, Melanson said. "Society is a victim, it's a hateful symbol." 

Black workers at the site are fearful of losing their jobs if they speak up, according to the NAACP chapter's Esdaile.  

While the investigation continues, police and the FBI are "developing potential persons of interest," the police chief said. "Based on the information that we're gathering, it is a worker or workers on site." 

The Amazon site was temporarily shut down on Wednesday for a second time after an eighth noose was discovered under some electrical material at the 3.6 million-square-foot construction site for a new warehouse in Windsor, a town on the northern border of Hartford, the state capital. The first noose had been found there nearly five weeks earlier.

"One noose, two nooses, three nooses, four nooses, five nooses — eight nooses and still don't have this thing under control? A company like Amazon with so many resources?" Esdaile said. 

Esdaile had scheduled a meeting with workers at the site on Wednesday, only to be kicked off the premises, he said. "We were supposed to sit down and talk to workers, and when we came on the site the police surrounded us, and acted like we did something wrong," Esdaile said. "Instead of finding the individuals behind the hate crimes they are harassing Black people."

Melanson, however, downplayed the incident to poor communication and the fact that the entire site had been shuttered and workers told to go home before Escaile and his colleagues arrived, due to the discovery of the eighth noose earlier in the day.

Esdaile and other NAACP members met with some workers off-site later in the day. 

A spokesperson for the FBI division in New Haven declined to respond directly to Esdaile's allegations, saying in an email the agency "is continuing to work with Windsor police at the site as the investigation is ongoing." 

The Connecticut State Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. 

Workers too scared to work don't get paid

Amazon did not have the "compassion to sit down and talk to the individuals who were traumatized," Esdaile said. "I've sat down with about 13 of them, and if they don't go to work they don't get paid — you don't make sure the job is safe, and then you don't pay them when they're scared to come to work," he added of the e-commerce giant.

Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn Wooden commended Amazon for offering a $100,000 reward for information on those behind the nooses, but, like Esdaile, expressed concern for the safety of Black workers at the site. "Beyond the reward that Amazon has offered, what steps is the company taking to ensure their safety?" Wooden asked in a letter Wednesday to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

As the main fiduciary of the Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, a shareholder of publicly traded, Wooden also called for a review of the company's use of minority contractors and subcontractors in constructing facilities across the country, saying Amazon's reputation could be at risk. 

Amazon declined to specify what steps it was taking to protect employees at the site, but reiterated past statements that the company has a zero-tolerance policy toward "hate, racism or discrimination" at sites under construction or in its buildings. 

"We are assessing the performance and management of our developer and general contractor to ensure they are maintaining the standards expected of an Amazon project. We will make any appropriate changes to this project, including reevaluating our partnerships, to ensure these high standards," a spokesperson for the company said Thursday in an email.

Nooses nothing new 

The racially charged incidents come a year after a noose was found at an Amazon facility in Phoenix, with the Black worker who found the noose strung up in a warehouse describing the discovery to a local CBS affiliate  as "really traumatizing." Quinice Jenkins also said she was told she could go home that day, only without pay.

Nooses being found at construction and other sites is also not without precedent in Connecticut. The state in 2008 passed legislation outlawing the use of nooses to threaten or intimidate after a series of incidents. The cases that prompted the ban included the discovery of nooses at construction sites in West Hartford and Stamford and a home improvement store in West Hartford.

Connecticut's past also includes a Black police officer, Sgt. Joe Anne Simmons-Meekins, discovering a noose under her police cruiser when she arrived for work in Bridgeport in November 2007, according to a local news report from that time. Simmons-Meekins had previously filed a discrimination complaint, claiming she'd been harassed by White officers, with a circuit court ruling in her favor in 2008. 

More recently, in 2015, a worker found a noose at a construction site at a University of Connecticut health center in Farmington.  

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz on Wednesday weighed in on the most recent developments. 

"The events of the past several weeks at the Amazon construction site in Windsor have been disgusting and hateful. The individuals responsible for these actions must be held accountable, and we urge law enforcement to be aggressive in their investigation. This repeated behavior is calculated, and clearly meant to stoke fear and encourage racism and bigotry," they said in a joint statement.

"The NAACP just wants people to go to work, work hard, and go home without any problems," said Esdaile. "This is a national issue. This is just a reflection of what is going on across America." 

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