CANTON, Ohio — Several Black workers at a Canton steel and iron company are outraged, afraid and speaking out after they say a rope—tied as a noose—was found hanging in the plant on the first day of Black History Month.
On Feb. 1, Marcus Murry started his shift on the shipping floor of United Rolls on Grace Avenue NE where he has worked for five years.
Murry, who loads and unloads trailers, said he discovered the rope near buttons that he uses to open doors.
"Looked at it at first, and I was stunned of what I had just seen. I was like, wow, don't know what to do about this," Murry said.
The rope was wrapped around a steel beam. Murry felt it was a noose representing a painful reminder to Black Americans.
"Ancestors that were hung," Murry said. "Me, being a Black man, and for anyone to put that up, it hurts."
Murry told a coworker, Gary Edwards, who was also appalled.
Both men said the rope, in that form, was not there before that day.
"It's got to be deliberate. I ain't never seen no noose hanging up since I started. Black History Month pops up, and now it's a big joke because people want to hang nooses," Edwards said.
Charles Gates, another Black employee, didn't see the rope hanging, but as word spread, he also became very concerned on a personal level.
"My family, we came from slavery, a small town in Mississippi, so I know what that's about. I grew up knowing about it. That's nothing to play with at all," Gates said.
According to Murry, two union plant union reps and a plant supervisor were notified. Murry said he was bothered when the supervisor ripped down the rope and tossed it in the trash.
"We wanted the boss to see what was going on," Murry said. "It was a crime. It was a threat. That's the way we looked at it."
News 5 spoke to Joe Shipley, the general manager of United Rolls, which manufactures steel and iron mill rolls.
He said the company was in the middle of an investigation and anticipated it was nearing an end. He said the rope was found in a corner of the shipping floor.
"We worked diligently to get to the bottom of this. It very well could have been a noose. I'm not saying it wasn't. Of course, no one likes that, if that's what it was," Shipley said. "Actions will be taken, if we can."
Hector McDaniel, president of the Stark County NAACP, believes it was a noose and said the incident has caused a lot of trauma for the workers.
"To cut through the chase, it's injustice. It's injustice to happen anywhere, anyplace, anytime," McDaniel said.
The NAACP reached out to the FBI, which is now part of the investigation, according to McDaniel.
"We contacted the FBI right away. They have assigned an agent to take a look at this case," McDaniel said.
When asked for comment, FBI Special Agent Patrick Lentz said the "Cleveland FBI can neither confirm nor deny any investigative activity pertaining to your request."
Stark County Black Caucus President Bishop D.L. Evans II believes the discovery in the plant could be a hate crime or a civil rights violation.
"Justice needs to be served. They need to be held accountable—all the way from the top—all the way down to the bottom," Evans said.
Shipley said the union is cooperating with the company as everyone tries to figure out what happened.
Those we talked to who were disturbed by this incident say sensitivity training is needed at a minimum.
"Everything is not taken care of. Everybody that's Black hasn't been spoken to about how they feel," Edwards said.
United Steelworkers Local 3610 represents many of the workers at the plant.
Joe Sterling, an international staff representative, said the message needs to be sent that what was found was unacceptable.
"Obviously, it's an unfortunate event," Sterling said. "It certainly looks like a noose. I'm not happy with the way the company has handled the investigation to date."
Sterling said a worker has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the union is trying to get a "complete and full investigation."
When asked if he thought enough was being doing to figure who may have done this, the NAACP's McDaniel said he we would like to make a strong statement but "will abstain for now."
However, he did offer a final takeaway for people who read about the troubling incident.
"It's just pretty sad, and it's almost like a continuing story," he said. "Will we ever grow up? In my mindset, we need one another to survive."
House Assistant Minority Leader and Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC), President Rep. Thomas E. West (D–Canton), issued the following statement Friday:
The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus is disturbed at the actions displayed on Feb. 1 at the United Rolls Steel Plant. I have worked at steel plants in the past, an inherently dangerous job, the threat of intentional acts fueled by racism cannot be tolerated in an already hazardous work environment. OLBC supports the Stark County Black Caucus and its efforts to eliminate these hateful acts based on race. OLBC and Black Ohioans are deeply concerned about still being the target of racial taunting, discrimination, and hate in the 21st century, especially during Black History Month. These individuals making a “joke” out of one of the most disturbing aspects of African American history is not only disgusting but criminal.
Imagine being an African American and having to see race-related issues about death and harassment every day. Imagine the trauma this brings. The offenders should be punished for the harm they have caused, alongside the plant managers for not properly handling the situation. Black people have been the most unprotected and disadvantaged people in this country, and groups like OLBC will not stand for it.
As the facts of this situation unravel, the United Rolls Steel Plant will be watched with strict scrutiny as employee reprimands are issued. The OLBC will be supporting the SCBC as it works to ensure that whistleblowers involved in this incident are not unduly punished and the offenders are removed from their jobs and disciplined to the fullest extent of the law.