Tri-State Trifecta: 3 States, 3 Uniformed Departments, 3 Lawsuits Alleging Racism

Fire Department of New York Officials respond to a fire. On Monday, FDNY Captain Paul Washington testified that racism within the department is widespread. Flcikr/istolethetv.

Three uniformed departments in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are embroiled in scandals over alleged racism within their ranks.

Some officials believe these cases indicate an attempt to purge racial inequalities and hatred that have long plagued Tri-State fire and police departments, while others believe they merely shed light on a perpetual problem.

FDNY captain testifies racism rampant within city firehouses: On Monday, Paul Washington, an FDNY captain and former president of the Vulcan Society — an organization of black firefighters who have historically combated intradepartmental prejudice — testified at a Brooklyn federal court about persistent derogatory practices in the department, the Daily News reported.

Washington said that shortly after 9/11, a flyer advertising a memorial service for black firefighters was found scrawled with racist remarks. A white firefighter who stepped forward and said that he had written the racist statements on the flyer was only punished “unofficially,” said Washington, according to the paper.

The former Vulcan Society president went on to explain that racist incidents, which include accusations of nooses being hung within firehouses, the frequent use of derogatory language and a firefighter wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe, are commonplace within the FDNY. He said that firefighters who speak out against racist behavior are frequently ostracized.

Washington’s testimony was the latest event in an investigation led by Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis to determine whether new FDNY tests for hiring firefighters are designed in a way that prevents black from scoring as well as whites. Garaufis ruled that the past two FDNY tests asked questions unrelated to job performance, which favored white applicants. As a result, the FDNY has not been allowed to hire new recruits for the past three years. If Garaufis and all FDNY parties involved with the investigation deem the FDNY’s newest test fair, then the FDNY can begin rehiring in January.

NAACP says it will file lawsuit against New Jersey troopers: The New Jersey State Police Department is plagued by accusations that its hiring practices are racially discriminatory, reported the Star-Ledger. In 2000, the NAACP settled a discrimination claim that forced the New Jersey troopers to improve their minority hiring practices. However, the troopers have apparently failed in their efforts to increase minority hiring — only five of 123 new recruits are black. On Monday, the NAACP  vowed to take legal action against the State Police for discrimination.

“It’s [the effort to remove discrimination from the hiring process] actually going backwards rather than forwards,” James Harris, president of the New Jersey chapter of the NAACP, told the Star-ledger. “The state doesn’t keep its promises.”

New York court takes black Connecticut firefighter’s lawsuit: A federal appeals court in New York has renewed a New Haven firefighter’s 2003 discrimination lawsuit , the Associated Press reported on Monday. The firefighter, Michael Briscoe, claims that he unfairly lost out on a promotion opportunity when the results of an exam were discarded. The 2003 exam was the subject of a Supreme Court Case, in which 17 white firefighters and one Latino firefighter successfully sued the City of New Haven after the city chose not to certify the results of an exam in which white candidates outperformed minority candidates. A Connecticut judge had initially ruled that the Supreme Court case prevented Briscoe from suing the City of New Haven, but now the lower-court judge is being forced to reopen Briscoe’s case.

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