(FinalCall.com) – Mayor Richard Daley continues to call on firefighters to break their silence and identify those responsible for the racial slurs that were broadcast over department radios. Amid the turmoil over the radio slurs, a Black fire battalion chief received a death threat.
At the same time, City Council members and activists are demanding reforms to end what they say is a culture of racism in the department. Two aldermen said they had received warnings not to criticize the Chicago Fire Department.
At a press conference called to denounce the use of city radios to propagate racism, Father Michael Pfleger, a Southside Catholic priest, said it was time to eradicate racism from the Chicago landscape.
“Father Pfleger has always said that racism is America’s greatest addiction,” Vince Clark, assistant to the pastor, told The Final Call. He said that he expects the activist-priest to do more than call a press conference, but the second step has yet to be planned.
In the meantime, the issues of the racial slurs and the death threats against the chief have caught the attention of Black firefighters around the nation. “We are compelled to respond to the death threats against Battalion Chief Nicholas Russell, who is also one of our members,” writes Joseph Muhammad, executive vice president of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters. In his press release, Mr. Muhammad said the association agreed with Mayor Daley that the culprits must be identified.
“For Chief Russell and his family to be threatened by members of the department where he works is incomprehensible and the issue must be investigated. This is an injustice,” he said. In order to understand the depth of the racism in the Chicago department, he suggested people visit the website of the Caucasian American Firefighters Association, adding that his association was in agreement with Chicago Alderwoman Freddrema Lyles’ proposal to create a citizen oversight board to monitor the fire department. He revealed that their membership is experiencing similar mistreatment in many of the fire departments across the nation. For example, on March 3, according to a report on Channel 9 News in Cincinnati, Ohio, an incident of broadcasting racial comments over fire department radios occurred.
In fact, according to observers, the problem of racial comments has been an ongoing problem plaguing Black and Latino firefighters. In 1999, a San Francisco Fire Department newsletter published the following statement: “Some minority Captains don’t know the difference between Cardiac and Cadillac.” In October of 2003, a New Haven firefighter was suspended for six months without pay for using the word “nigger” during a public presentation.
However, warns Dr. Portia Rawles, Psy.D, assistant professor of Psychology at the Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., seldom do those who want legal redress for acts of discrimination and harassment mention the health consequences of such acts. She explained that there was a significant amount of research that links poor psychological and physical health with gender and ethnic discrimination and sexual harassment.
Dr. Rawles recommends specific actions that may be implemented by fire chiefs and their senior staffs. Her ideas include formulating ant-discrimination and sexual harassment policies; publishing understandable procedures for the reporting and investigating of any occurrences of theses types of behavior; and making it known that retaliation against anyone filing a complaint will not be tolerated.
“It must be clear to line firefighters and company officers that the chief and the senior staff are serious in their support and enforcement of such policies,” Dr. Rawles said.