A contractor working on the Merck COVID-19 vaccine construction project in North Durham found a noose on the site, and the company is investigating how it got there, The News & Observer and WRAL-TV have reported.
The noose is a symbol of anti-Black racism and similar disturbing incidents have been reported recently elsewhere, notably at a number of construction sites in Toronto, Canada.
The newspaper obtained an email signed by 17 employees saying that the contractor found “a rope fashioned as a noose” at a project on the company’s 262-acre site.
The email sent on June 5 said the rope was immediately removed.
“Actions such as these will NOT be tolerated and individuals found committing such acts will be dealt with swiftly and severely,” site management said in the email. “As a leadership team, we are disgusted that anyone on our plant site would engage in such behavior.”
Nooses allude to the history of racial violence and lynchings that took the lives of thousands of people in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“We have zero tolerance for hate, racism, or discrimination in our workplace or society,” the company said in the statement sent to The News & Observer.
The federal government finalized a $105.4 million contract to outfit Merck’s Durham plant for COVID-19 vaccines, including repairing and altering production buildings.
The Durham site is one of two Merck plants tapped to help manufacture the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year.
In the email, site leadership encouraged employees to voice any concerns to management, and provided other resources for support.
“Individually and collectively we must and we will stand together against racism, hate and discrimination,” the email said.