Originally created 01/24/02

Probe left hanging



Two years ago when a couple of nooses were found in a Savannah River Site industrial area - and interpreted by black workers to be an insult, if not a threat - executives wrote the incident off as carelessness or a bad joke and urged employees to be more sensitive to their co-workers.

Then last month another noose showed up. It could not be taken as more bad-taste carelessness. It was intentional and sent a message. The perpetrator(s) had to know from the earlier experience that African-Americans perceive nooses much the same as they would KKK messages. Nooses invoke terror.

This kind of white "good-'ol-boy foolin' around" springs from the same mean-spirited mind-set that, in its most extreme form, leads to cruel tragedies like the 1998 truck dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Texas.

SRS' top contractor, Westinghouse Savannah River Co., is aware of the fear factor, too. The firm's president, Bob Pedde, e-mailed all his employees that "the introduction of a noose in the workplace (is) both intimidating and inappropriate."

Pedde went on to threaten to "terminate" anyone who got caught doing it. But then he proceeded to call off an investigation into finding who the culprit was.

We don't mean to make too much of this, but it does seem to us that ending the month-old probe is premature - particularly for a company that's been settling lawsuits left and right after being charged with discrimination by black litigants.

Just how much effort went into the noose investigation? We bet if Westinghouse had put up a reward of several thousand dollars, it would have found the "good 'ol boy" to terminate.

Aborting the noose probe so quickly raises the question of whether the firm settled those discrimination cases to avoid long and expensive court battles, or because there was credibility to them.