From the Washington Post:
By Annie Gowen and Katie Zezima
March 4, 2020 at 7:20 a.m. PST
Police have not provided a motive for the Feb. 26 rampage, which ended when gunman Anthony Ferrill killed himself inside the iconic brewery that has produced Miller beer for more than a century. Police also have not said racism played a part in the shooting deaths.
“I don’t believe that was a factor,” said Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morale during an interview on news radio station WTMJ.
Ferrill, who is black, worked as an electrician at the facility for 17 years.
Six current and former employees and others with knowledge of the brewery said overtly racist acts have occurred there for years. A noose was found on Ferrill’s locker in 2015, they said, prompting a brewery-wide meeting with human resources.
The employees also described a workplace where minority workers were subject to racist language and taunts based on their religion.
“Everyone knows the environment we worked in. It’s just a sad situation that it actually happened,” said former brewery worker Jelani Muhammad of the noose on Ferrill’s locker.
Molson Coors said Ferrill was not working the day the noose was reported.
“Our HR team notified him of the incident, it was investigated fully, no camera footage was available to show who placed it on the locker,” the company said in a written statement to The Washington Post. …
Muhammad, who worked at the brewery from 2015 to 2019, said he endured taunts from co-workers about his name and the fact that he is a practicing Muslim. He said people would call him Jamal or Salami. …
Muhammad said the stress of the environment took a toll on his health. He gained weight and was crippled by anxiety. He said he almost called a suicide hotline. Finally, he quit.
Current and former employees said the brewery department was notorious for talk of racism and sexism.
“It’s a good old boys club to this day. There was a saying on the brewery floor — ‘no blacks, no b—–s,’ ” said a current employee who did not give his name for fear of jeopardizing his job. A former brewery floor worker, who did not give his name because he did not want to affect his current employment, said there was “constant harassment. The constant nitpicking. The constant racial things that were done and allowed to be done because our complaints fell on deaf ears.”
Robert Powell, a sanitation worker at the plant from 2013 to 2018, said he saw the n-word scrawled in a bathroom stall in the brewery and a swastika carved into a locker room wall. He recalled a conversation with Ferrill in March 2016, while they were on break watching college basketball games.
“He was a cool guy, didn’t show any type of aggression,” Powell said. But when Powell, who is black, said he was thinking of applying to transfer to the brewery, he said Ferrill had a warning: “They will hate on you down there.” …
Employees said that the noose on Ferrill’s locker was discussed at a brewery-wide meeting held in the “stables” of the brewery, a historic room that once housed the draft horses but now is a meeting space. Ken Litke, then the brewery manager, led the meeting, employees said.
“He said, ‘Obviously this isn’t right. We don’t tolerate this,’ ” the current employee recalled, adding that the manager told employees to respect each other. “It was the kind of thing you would expect a brewery manager to say.”…
State Sen. Lena Taylor, a Democrat who is running for mayor of Milwaukee, said she has spoken to employees since the shooting about what she characterized as “a racially toxic environment” at the plant.
“Based on what the colleagues have told me, [Ferrill] had to deal with a lot,” she said. “So do I believe it was a contributing factor? Yes, there’s no question I believe the racial harassment was a contributing factor. I don’t see how it would not be.”
In 1984 — when the Milwaukee plant was still owned by Miller — William K. Coors, then chairman and chief executive of Adolph Coors Co., was quoted saying that black people lack “intellectual capacity.” The Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP called for a boycott, and more than 500 Southern California liquor stores stopped selling Coors beer. The company signed agreements with black and Hispanic groups to hire minorities, invest in minority-owned businesses and increase the number of minority distributors.
In 1994, Miller Brewing Company paid $2.7 million to settle a racial harassment suit brought by black workers at the company’s plant in Fulton, N.Y., according to news reports at the time. The workers alleged they had been subjected to harassment that included racist graffiti, nooses and racial slurs broadcast over the brewery’s public address system. The company closed the plant shortly before settling the lawsuit and laid off 900 workers.
… Ferrill worked as an in-house electrician in the “powerhouse” utility area of the 82-acre plant.
“His personality made him a target,” said the current employee, who had known Ferrill for more than a decade. “He was a soft-spoken guy.”
… But co-workers said he was struggling at work. He had long suffered chronic back pain that left him frustrated and may have impacted his ability to work, according to lawyer Steven C. Gabert, a personal injury attorney who represented Ferrill after a car accident.
Ferrill told Gabert that his career at Molson Coors made him happy, paid well and allowed him to support his family — his wife, two adult children and a younger daughter — but added that working as an electrician at multiple buildings around the campus was more physically demanding than it seemed.
He was off work for a time on a workers’ compensation claim and became convinced that the company was spying on him and that his house had been broken into, colleagues said.
He expressed that fear to neighbors as well. According to the Associated Press, he told a neighbor, Erna Roenspies, that the company “spies” were checking up on him to make sure he was really sick.