In April, deliveryman Victor Sheppard was handed a noose by Joe Ottomanelli of the famous West Village institution Ottomanelli & Sons Meat Market and told, "Here is your gift. You can put it around your neck and pull if you want to end it all. If you are feeling stressed out I can help you with it.”
Since the incident, which resulted in Ottomanelli turning himself in and being charged with a hate crime, Sheppard claims that he has been too traumatized to return to work, fearing for his safety and disheartened that his employer has not severed ties with the butcher.
“I could have lost my life or been badly injured or in jail, and it didn’t mean anything to them,” Sheppard said, referring to Mosner Family Brands' decision to continue serving Ottomanelli & Sons even after he reported the racist incident to them. "It's not easy returning to an environment where you mean nothing."
Wylie Stecklow, Sheppard's attorney, said that the man is "unable to sleep through the night and unsure when his life will return to normal.”
Reportedly a week prior to the noose incident, Ottomanelli had also told Sheppard, "It wasn't so long ago that your people couldn't sit in the front of the bus.”
Michael Mosner of Mosner Family Brands said that Sheppard was welcome to apply for disability leave and was offered free counseling, but that his former employee had not pursued either option. He also said that the company would have assigned Sheppard a new delivery route that would have kept him far away from the threat of Ottomanelli & Sons, but that after the deliveryman failed to show up to work on two occasions they assumed he had left his job.
"We did everything we could to hold his spot," Mosner said. "He just didn’t do his part."
Ottomanelli & Sons have blamed the incident on an employee they fired a while ago, who is considering suing the butcher for defamation of character, and are framing the actions as a sick "joke." The butcher's lawyer, Ron Kuby, attempted to diminish Sheppard's complaints, insisting that the deliveryman is making a mountain out of a mole hill and is trying to make money.
“There’s no reason for this man to quit his job besides the reason that suing is easier than working,” Kuby said. While he says that the noose was "ugly" and "hateful," it was not a crime.
"It is more than just ugly and hateful. It is definitely a crime. And that is why the detective investigated, and that is why he was arrested," the Rev. Kevin McCall of the National Action Network said. "So Ron Kuby doesn't know what the hell he is talking about when he saying that it wasn't a crime. It was a crime, and that is why we are in court."
While Manhattan Judge Phyllis Chu issued an order of protection in favor of Sheppard, the rest of the case is an excellent example of institutional racism at work. Instead of severing ties, Mosner Family Brands sought to diffuse the situation in a way that ultimately benefited them the most. The butchers are defending their name by victim-blaming, spinning the case as an elaborate attempt at making money by playing off of the racist stereotype of black people as lazy.
According to The New York Daily News, Sheppard has not filed a lawsuit against the butchers.
In America, if a white person hands a black person a noose, it is never a "joke." It is a threat because of the nation's history of lynching black people and racism that has gained new political footholds in the current administration.
Sheppard's fear is not an overreaction, but a survival instinct stemming from a charged time and a violent history in which people who looked like him were on the end of that noose.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Flickr user Global Panorama, courtesy of Fraser Mummery