Since Oct. 1, when a white construction worker waved a noose in his face on the 45th floor of the Comcast tower, Paul Solomon Jr. has been, as he told City Council members yesterday, "on the bench."
Out of 45 work days since the incident, the African-American heavy-equipment operator figures he's had five days of work.
"I'm sitting home, and my wife, she's crying and fighting about how we're going to pay bills, and our standard of living is diminishing," said Solomon, quietly sobbing. "It's hurt me to my heart."
Solomon says he's not working because he blew the whistle on the white worker's racial harassment. Now he's been blackballed.
Three weeks after the incident, City Councilman Darrell Clarke introduced legislation that prohibits the display of "symbols of virulent animus: a noose, a burning cross or a swastika" with the "intent to intimidate another person or to incite violence."
Such displays would be banned in workplaces and public places. Yesterday, after Solomon's testimony, the bill sailed through Council's licenses and inspections committee and is poised for final passage on Dec. 13.
When he introduced the bill, Clarke said he fully expected First Amendment questions to arise. Yesterday, they didn't.
But in an interview, Larry Frankel, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said, "On its face, it sounds like it has some significant First Amendment problems."
He said it's dangerous for the government to regulate the display of symbols. Suppose, he said, that a pro- or anti-death penalty group chose to display a noose as part of its activity. Could someone, he asked, construe its use as an intention to "intimidate another person or to incite violence," as the legislation is written?
But Nick Taliaferro, executive director of the city's Human Relations Commission, said using hate symbols is "psychological terrorism" and that the noose for African-Americans instantly conjures the despicable history of lynching in this country.
Bruce Crawley, a businessman and board member of the Technical Assistance Center for Emerging Contractors, expressed outrage that Solomon has suffered unemployment in the wake of the racial incident.
And he called for stiff penalties and oversight of the construction industry to reduce incidents of racial harassment. The Clarke bill sets penalties of a $1,500 fine and 90 days in jail if found guilty.
Solomon, a 14-year member of Local 542 of the Operating Engineers, said his union representative told him that the contractors at the Comcast site considered him a troublemaker and didn't want him back on the job.
The Daily News could not reach a union spokesman or a spokesman from East Coast Hoist, where Solomon said he worked for about 18 months, for comment.
Meanwhile, Cathie Abookire, spokeswoman for District Attorney Lynne Abraham, said the investigation into the Oct. 1 noose incident had been completed but that "there was insufficient evidence that a crime was committed and so no charges were filed."
Barry Morrison, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, testified in favor of the bill, noting that the FBI released statistics on hate crimes last month and that Philadelphia reported 34 hate crimes, ranking it 16th out of the 50 largest cities.