New York’s bravest racists

During last year’s protests [following the murder of George Floyd], three white fire lieutenants suggested turning fire hoses on protesters to disperse them, the department confirmed, an echo of some of the worst images to come out of the civil rights movement.

Only after several Black firefighters sought help from Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who is now the Democratic nominee for mayor, did the department issue guidance against using the tactic.

As recently as 2019, wariness of women and people of color joining the department was written into a Fire Department training bulletin for managers. “Motivation in firefighting is largely a matter of team building,” one section read. “Team building encounters special problems when the team has to readjust to new members, minorities or females, or members who are problems because they do not behave.”

For a half-hour window last April, Black firefighters had an unfiltered view into the racism in their department. A secret, anonymous text message thread between a group of white firefighters was leaked to those who had been intentionally excluded. It included overtly racist memes, comments and jokes about Mr. Floyd’s death. In one meme, a Sesame Street character refuses a salary when becoming a police officer, because “being able to legally shoot Black children is payment enough.”

The Fire Department is currently under the watch of a federal monitor to focus on diversity, who was put in place in 2011 after a lawsuit determined the department had discriminated against Black and other minority applicants in its post-9/11 hiring process. Still, employees have regularly accused the department and individual firefighters of discrimination and harassment in the years since….

A political landscape upended by former President Donald J. Trump also affected the environment, Black firefighters said, as colleagues have frequently displayed political loyalty to Mr. Trump in the firehouse and while in uniform.

Several firefighters provided The Times with photos of pro-Trump paraphernalia being displayed openly in their houses, along with flags with the “Don’t Tread on Me” logo and the Betsy Ross design, both of which have been adopted by far-right extremist groups. One picture showed a sign-up sheet labeled “Firefighters for Trump.” In contrast, Delroy Hunter, a Black firefighter who serves in Queens, says he once received a request from a firehouse superior to remove a symbol representing the civil rights icon Malcolm X from his helmet. He refused….

As recently as 2019, wariness of women and people of color joining the department was written into a Fire Department training bulletin for managers. “Motivation in firefighting is largely a matter of team building,” one section read. “Team building encounters special problems when the team has to readjust to new members, minorities or females, or members who are problems because they do not behave.” Frank Dwyer, a department spokesman, confirmed that the guidance, which was originally written in 1997, had remained in training materials until it was removed in 2019, as part of a departmentwide effort to purge outdated language. “This does not reflect the F.D.N.Y. today,” he said….

For a half-hour window last April, Black firefighters had an unfiltered view into the racism in their department. A secret, anonymous text message thread between a group of white firefighters was leaked to those who had been intentionally excluded. It included overtly racist memes, comments and jokes about Mr. Floyd’s death. In one meme, a Sesame Street character refuses a salary when becoming a police officer, because “being able to legally shoot Black children is payment enough.” Elsewhere, participants in the chat compared Black people to wild animals, before another person responded, “wild animals behave better.” Another image showed a faked image of a dating profile for Mr. Floyd. His “match” was a white man’s knee…. “

Any strange outsider, especially if they’re from a marginalized population, they don’t get a welcome mat,” said Jennifer Taylor, the director of the Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends at Drexel University. “They have to prove themselves.”

Still, most of the Black firefighters said their problems with the department were confined to the firehouse* and they trusted their colleagues while they were out on the job, fighting fires. Many spoke in similar terms as the commissioner, telling newer Black firefighters to “keep the faith,” even as the pace of change can be slow. Firefighter Wilson said she believed the job was worth fighting for. “These white firefighters know the value of this job. That’s why they drive an hour and a half to come and work in Bed-Stuy and Brownsville,” she said. “Why can’t the people that live in these communities have that value and worth?”

* [nota bene]

“In New York City and beyond…men — and, less frequently, women — work together for what can be 12- or 24-hour shifts, eat meals together, and spend time living in a shared space while not on a call.”

[In this context “confined to the firehouse “ constitutes a significant amount of time.]

www.nytimes.com/2021/10/01/nyregion/fdny-racism-scandal.html

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