(New York) A few days after the murder of George Floyd, Eric Adams, probable future mayor of New York, did not hesitate to use a concept that annoys others. He wanted to describe the evil which, according to him, was plaguing municipal services, for which he should inherit responsibility from the 1is January 2022.
“The problem of systemic racism has permeated and saturated every agency in our city,” he tweeted on June 7, 2020. “It’s not just the NYPD [New York City Police Department] that needs radical reform. The FDNY [Fire Department of the City of New York] is one of the last great bastions of racism at the highest level. ”
He did not think so well about the FDNY, acronym of the fire department of New York. 1is last october, the New York Times revealed that nine firefighters from that agency, including at least one lieutenant, were suspended on the sly for exchanging racist messages and memes over the death of George Floyd over the phone.
In one of the memes, a character from Sesame Street refuses the salary offered to him as a new police officer. “Being able to legally shoot black children is enough payment,” he says.
Another is a fake profile of George Floyd on a dating site. His “match” is the knee of a white man.
In an exchange, participants in the secret discussion group compare black people to wild animals. One of them says: “Wild animals behave better. ”
At another point, participants suggest using fire hoses to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters, such as during the crackdown on civil rights activists in Birmingham, Alabama.
These examples illustrate the tone of messages and memes that earned participants no pay suspensions ranging from a few days to six months.
The frustration of a judge
Brooklyn federal judge Nicholas Garaufis is one of the New Yorkers scandalized by this story. In 2007, he presided over a discrimination lawsuit brought by the United States Department of Justice against the FDNY, of which 93% of the 11,000 firefighters were white at the time.
In 2011, he gave a former federal prosecutor the responsibility of overseeing the FDNY’s progress on diversity. The trial he had presided over had just found that the fire department had discriminated against black applicants and other minorities in its hiring process.
And last Friday, Judge Garaufis summoned the FDNY commissioner to appear before him. He wanted to know why the toughest suspensions in FDNY history had been hidden from the public.
“Why not reveal that there are consequences to sending racist messages within the FDNY?” He asked, while expressing his frustration at having learned of the suspensions while reading his newspaper.
Daniel Nigro, FDNY commissioner since 2014, used a regulatory reason to justify his discretion. He also mentioned progress in the hiring of firefighters from ethnic minorities.
“The service is now three times more diverse than it was when I started,” he said.
In figures, this gives today 75% of whites within the FDNY, 13% of Hispanics, 8% of blacks and 2% of Asians. By comparison, whites make up only 47% of NYPD police officers.
After highlighting the progress made since taking office, Daniel Nigro agreed that there were still problems with inclusion. “If the people hired don’t feel welcome, it’s hard to convince others to make the fire service a career,” he said.
Even in the toilet
The concept of systemic racism is no more unanimous in the United States than in Quebec. In general, the conservatives reject it, seeing it only as a roundabout way of making whites feel guilty.
This point of view has long been dominant within the FDNY. Defenders of the service have notably denied that its hiring exams were discriminatory. According to them, these exams had only one goal: to ensure that the best candidates are recruited. And there was nothing wrong with the fact that over 90% of them were White.
The new hiring process imposed by Judge Garaufis in 2011 forced the FDNY to welcome more firefighters of color. But it did not put an end to certain practices or mentalities. Thus, until 2019, this paragraph could be read in a training manual:
“Motivation in fighting fires is largely a matter of team cohesion. Team cohesion encounters particular problems when the team has to adapt to new members, minorities or women, or members who are problematic because they do not behave well. ”
The manual has been purged of any passages deemed racist or sexist. But racism and sexism are still present on the ground. During the appearance of the FDNY commissioner, Judge Garaufis gave the example of a fire station where firefighters were still using toilet paper on which the face of Barack Obama was printed.
Noting that the FDNY has been under surveillance since 2007, he wondered when such manifestations of racism would end.
“With all the recent issues, it’s hard to see when this will happen,” he said.
After embracing the concept of systemic racism, could the likely future New York mayor succeed where others have failed?