Mayor Bloomberg on the idea that the buck stops with him: “I don’t know what the word ‘Responsible’ is.”
In New York, in the 1840’s and 50’s, if you were white, Irish and Catholic, you had a tough row to hoe, potatoes or not. Protestants of British-Scots origin created a nativist movement which engaged in wholesale and pervasive discrimination against Irish and German immigrants and Catholics. Secret societies sprang up, known as “Know-Nothings” dedicated to fighting the presence and alleged influence of these newly arrived immigrants.
Then as now, jobs, power and patronage were at stake. Those with power, that is white protestants with British lineage, were dis-inclined to give way to others who might dilute their control or take jobs. It was a bitter fight based largely on religion and language as the participants were racially homogeneous.
160 years later, the fight over jobs and power continues with an ironic change in cast members. Those hyper-proud British descendants clamoring to protect their turf have been supplanted, at least in the fire department, by a phalanx of Irish and Italian white men manning the ramparts against the newest enemies, Blacks and Hispanics. And, they have proven quite effective at guarding their very ivory towers.
It is somewhere between astonishing and just plain unbelievable that in a city the size of New York, where 26% of the residents are black, that FDNY is 97% white. How can this be rationally explained?
US District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis’s conclusion is that the FDNY discriminates, with the Mayor’s full support, against minority citizens on a massive and pervasive scale. Garaufis has issued a series of findings illustrating a nearly forty-year pattern of intentional discriminatory practises which spans 6 mayors and ten fire commissioners. He concludes that FDNY is “segregated-in-fact.” He’s right, except in this case the segregation consists of what amounts to a conspiracy to deny employment.
Amazingly, it was the Justice Department of then President George W. Bush that sued the city over its conduct. That should give you some idea how bad things are. The Justice Dept. and others have pointed out that FDNY fails to measure up in terms of: the city population, other city uniformed services, or similar large US fire departments. It is a cracker box on the Hudson overseen by the wacky and ultra-wealthy meshugana*-mayor Micheal Bloomberg.
% Blacks/Population % Blacks in FD (2005)
Philly 43.2% 26.3
Chicago 36.8 20.4
New York 26.6 2.9
Mayor Bloomberg’s conduct is inexplicable. He is looking more and more like a modern day Orval Faubas. He has stone-walled and ignored every attempt to implement real change. Where his policies and leadership are concerned he is as racist as Ross Barnett opposing James Meredith’s admission to Ole Miss. At least Barnett was an ignorant redneck. Just what is Bloomberg’s excuse? Of course, he has his britches seriously wedged over a federal judge setting city policy, but what about the progressive reformer out to make New York better, more accountable and more effective? Is his legacy to line up with all the other recent mayors in perpetuating this decades-long farce?
And it is a farce. The forces of the status-quo have successfully (and ridiculously) framed the argument around recruitment, the lowest common denominator possible. This forward defense means that real change is decades away, if it comes at all. What about actually hiring qualified minorities? What about the relatively few current minority employees? What can be done to recruit them into positions of additional responsibility, visibility and authority?
The judge focuses in on the “bureaucratic blame-shifting and accountability avoidance” used by FDNY and City leaders to prevent them from taking any action. Here’s Commissioner Cassano on the fire department’s role: “All we can do…is recruit as many minority candidates as we can… That’s the Fire Department’s involvement in the process.” And, his reaction to the fact that NYPD’s Black and Hispanic percentage is over 50%: “I’m not aware of it but I don’t see what the difference is. I run the Fire Department not the Police Department.” Where the Department’s recruitment efforts are concerned, Cassano said, “I think we are doing a very good job.” It does make you wonder what a bad job would be. Or, perhaps he is referring to their job keeping them out of FDNY.
The billionaire mayor is seriously pissed off and because he does what he wants, anyway, he has sent his staff attorneys off to the US Court of Appeals to put Judge Garaufis in his place. Because the numbers speak for themselves, Bloomberg and his lackeys are left to attack the messenger as being unfair and inequitable. The irony is crushing.
Why should you care about this? It’s simple. FDNY is the most revered fire department, period. They are copied and imitated in ways too numerous to even begin to list. Even a federal judge alludes to FDNY as being the best job in the world. (Shouldn’t Blacks and Hispanics be afforded a fair opportunity at that “best job” without a pitched battle?) FDNY is so famous, so integral to the American Fire Service, that it transcends quantification. And, while rampant discrimination in FDNY is hardly a blot on the American Fire Service, our silence about it is. So, speak up about it–urge them to change. Here as elsewhere, silence equals agreement. Who knows? Your voice may be the one that makes the difference.
But, some courage of conviction is probably required.
*- a crazy person
Judge Garaufis’s decision:
Credits: NYT, NYDN, NYP, Wiki, Garaufis decision