Published November 08, 2007
NEW ORLEANS – The FBI is investigating allegations that a public works department supervisor displayed in his office two nooses, a bullwhip and a dart board with a black man as the bull's-eye, an agent said.
A black worker went public with the complaints Wednesday, saying he was fed up with the racist symbols in his white superintendent's office at a sewage lift station in Jefferson Parish.
"I've been in this department 6 1/2 years, and when I got to the department they were there," Terrence Lee said.
Lee's superiors dismissed his concerns when he went to them, he said at a news conference in the offices of Danatus King, president of the New Orleans chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"I know I'm going to get fired, but I have to stand up," Lee said.
Lee identified the superintendent as Bill Hartline. Tim Whitmer, a top parish administrator, said Hartline is a longtime employee.
No home phone listing for a Bill or William Hartline could be found.
King called on Jefferson Parish to remove all racist symbols from its property and fire any worker responsible for exhibiting racist symbols.
Officials in Jefferson Parish, a bedroom community of New Orleans, said in a news release that "appropriate action" would be taken. Whitmer said parish leaders learned of Lee's allegations only on Wednesday afternoon.
FBI agent Jim Bernazzani said he assigned the case to his civil rights division.
"We take these complaints very seriously," Bernazzani said. "We're seeing if it rises to the level of a federal hate crime."
The investigation will be based in part on photographs Lee took in 2005 of his superintendent's office. In them, the nooses dangle from a wooden contraption that reaches to the ceiling. A bullwhip hangs from a wooden post labeled as a whipping post. A black man stands at the center of the dart board, and his groin area makes up the bull's-eye.
Racial tension in Louisiana has been high after the case known as the Jena Six, in which six black teens were accused of beating a white student at a high school in the town of Jena. A noose was hung in a tree on campus not long before the attack.
In September, tens of thousands of people marched on the small central Louisiana town in one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in years.