Merck and local authorities are investigating after a second noose was found on a construction site at the company’s Durham vaccine plant.
The pharmaceutical company, which has a 262-acre facility in north Durham, said it was “outraged that symbols of hate have been found in construction areas” at the plant.
“We have zero tolerance for hate, racism or discrimination,” Merck said in a statement to The News & Observer on Monday. “We condemn all forms of racial hatred.”
Nooses have long been used as symbols of racism and hatred toward Black people in the U.S., referring back to the history of racial violence and lynchings that killed thousands of people.
The company said it is “fully investigating what happened” and “cooperating with authorities.”
Nooses found two weeks apart
Plant management had notified employees of the first noose just over a week ago, The N&O previously reported.
“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 an email to employees. “As a leadership team, we are disgusted that anyone on our plant site would engage in such behavior.”
A Merck spokesman did not respond at the time when asked whether local authorities had been involved.
But the second noose was reported to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office last week, according to an incident report obtained by The N&O.
The two nooses had been found on May 24 and June 7, the report said.
The first of these was not reported to the company until May 27, according to the report. It was not reported to security until June 3.
The N&O has asked the sheriff’s office for more information and whether investigators have a suspect or possible motive.
In an email last week, Merck Chairman and C.E.O. Ken Frazier and President Rob Davis notified staff about the two nooses.
“Merck leaders are meeting with employees at the site to provide support, and to emphasize our zero-tolerance policy,” Frazier and Davis wrote in the email, according to a copy obtained by The N&O. “We also have put enhanced safety and security measures in place to protect our employees in Durham.”
The company did not respond to a request for more information about those measures.
Merck’s Durham plant was one of two selected to help manufacture the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year.
The federal government committed $105.4 million in March to outfit the Durham plant for the production of the vaccine, The N&O previously reported.
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