By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Coming into work just days before the Juneteenth Holiday weekend, James Myers, a union carpenter in Seattle, had no idea what was in store for him as he entered his workstation at a construction site in Redmond.
When Myers arrived at his workstation that morning, he saw a speed square – a measuring tool used by carpenters – that had his name on it hanging at the end of a noose.
In response, Myers documented the noose, contacted the Redmond Police department, and reported the incident.
According to Myers, this was not the first time that he has been subjected to racially offensive incidents while working at the site, but this latest incident was one that he could not ignore. Myers claims that he has worked in a racially hostile environment since starting his new position with BNBuilders. From being called “Black boy” to derogatory statements involving “picking cotton” that culminated into someone hanging a noose at his workstation, Myers believes that his presence was not wanted at the job site.
“[The other employees would make] racial jokes all day long,” says Myers. “There were a lot of Black jokes like, ‘hey, Black boy do this…’ and I’d reply ‘I’m not your Black boy’ and they are doing this trying to be funny, sarcastic, but for me it wasn’t funny at all.”
Jim Charpentier, a spokesperson for BNBuilders, says that the company just recently learned of the alleged incident and have started their own internal investigation, and that these alleged actions do not reflect the value system of the company.
“We just learned of this, so we have alerted authorities because this goes against every fiber of who we are and what we represent,” says Charpentier, who said he couldn’t go into much more detail because the investigation is ongoing. “We are conducting an internal investigation right now to learn everything we can about what happened here, this is a horrible incident.”
Pastor Ricky Willis, a retired carpenter who manages a carpentry apprenticeship program in Seattle, was devastated when he heard about the incident. Myers had been through his program and was one of his best students and has used the program to help turn his life around.
After stints of dealing with the criminal justice system, Myers made the life-changing decision to re-educate himself in the field of carpentry, provide for his family and was on the verge of becoming a journeyman in his chosen profession when the alleged incident occurred.
“James was one of my ace students,” said Willis. “Coming straight out of prison, signed up for the program and caught on really easy. He would stay after school to learn and come to class early to hone in on the craft of being a carpenter.”
“As he continued to grow, I followed him and mentored him,” continued Willis. “He wanted to make a good living and journey out, so this was during the week of Juneteenth, he was graduating, he began reporting and sharing with his family how they [his co-workers] were harassing him, but he wanted to stick it out because he needed just a few more hours to become a journeyman and so he stuck it out. But he gave his two weeks’ notice and when he came to work to finish his paperwork that is when he discovered the noose hanging.”
Myers has experienced a lot of things in life, but says that he didn’t expect for things like this to happen when he was doing what he believed were the right things in life to get ahead.
“This was an opportunity to change my life and give me a career,” says Myers. “I could put my troubled past behind me, so I worked really hard, stayed dedicated and my hard work prevailed.”
“I have faced a lot of adversity like people do in general,” continued Myers. “I made my choices in life and now I am making and changing my life around for my children and my family. I worked really hard to get into a union and at first, I didn’t want to get into [the union] because I had already heard the rumors. I know that men like me, and minorities in general, have to work harder and so I put in 110 percent. But I was not expecting it to go in this direction.”
Willis says that he experienced similar issues when he was working as a carpenter, but it was his hope that the people he was training today didn’t have to deal with the issues that he had to deal with.
“I have been doing this work because I was a union carpenter myself,” says Willis. “What I experienced I did not want other young Black men to experience so I started a pre-apprenticeship preparation program for them going into this trade.”
“I teach those that I mentor and in particular James, if this or that happens on the job this is how you need to carry yourself, this is how you need to report it,” says Willis. “But once you get out there it’s different, once you see how they do it you can be hesitant, you are kind of scared because you want to make a good living and you stay in so you can journey out.”
“And so, when he came up against certain scenarios, he brushed a lot of it off because he wanted to get his hours in, become a journeyman and continue making a good living for his family,” Willis added.
Although his spirits may have been dampened, Myers says that he will not let this incident deter him from bettering himself and providing for his family.
“This experience may have been hurtful but I am going to stand strong,” says Myers. “For my family, my children, my community, things like this have to stop and I am going to fight it till the end.”