(UPDATE) FDNY: Here is What Structural, Institutional, Systemic Racism Looks Like
UPDATE: My commentary (below) struck a nerve. Between interaction on Twitter, and comments on ‘My Stoop’ entry, and BBN’s Huffington Post blogspot, I have heard from FDNY members who are upset with my commentary; and, specifically about my “preferential treatment/legacy-friends and family” hiring remark. I do not mind the push back and even welcome the feedback. (Though, there was no need to cuss me.)
FDNY is not a merit-based system. That is not my opinion. That is based on the Court’s findings. The system can’t be merit-based when 89% of its force is White. That does not mean all FDNY White firefighters did not earn – fair and square – their position. But there are others who did not earn their positions – fair and square. And there are definitely those, who because they are not White and did not have family-friend connections, were not afforded access and participation in the system.
FDNY-City of New York did not invent the practice of systemic racism in hiring and promotion. It just happens to be one, high profile, system that the United States Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit against.
For those who do not believe that preferential treatment, legacy and friends and family hiring is practiced in FDNY, take a moment to read the “MEMORANDUM FINDINGS OF FACT” document. It is lengthy, but I recommend that you read the entire document. The part that directly addresses the practice of legacy/friends and family hiring and preferential treatment begins on page nine and ends on page 12. That practice, which only one racial group benefits from, is one method of achieving an 89% percent White department.
The deposition testimony from Ms. Sherry Kavaler, a former FDNY Deputy Human Resource Commissioner, is especially insightful. In plain language, she describes just how the New York City Fire Department system works, and how it has achieved and maintained an 89% White workforce. That testimony is problematic for FDNY and the City of New York, and it is why we are where we are today. (More from Ms. Kavaler can be found in a Civil Action document).
For the record, I have a great deal of respect for FDNY firefighters, and the life and death work they are dedicated to. That is the only reason I am responding to the comments I received. I get the frustration – downright anger – and thought a response from me was deserved.
Original Commentary (Oct. 2, 2012):
From my Stoop: The Fire Department of New York City is 89% white. Arguably, New York City is the most ethnically diverse city in the United States of America. A system has to work extraordinarily hard – go out of its way – to create and maintain an 89% White workforce, in a New York City public institution. But a Federal judge ruled FDNY can’t do that – discriminate – anymore, and White fighterfighters are none to pleased about this ruling.
There is surefire Fugazi going on at FDNY, and with City of New York leadership for effectively co-signing the practice of discrimination in any of its agencies.
Think about this: it has taken a cast of many in NYC’s leadership, over decades, to help the FDNY remain nearly all White. And here is an irony I do not understand: New York City proudly waves the liberal-progressive banner. It is a bastion of Democratic politics. Yet, it is this kind of duplicity in policy that makes me scratch and shake my head. How can anyone in NYC, who is a card-carrying Democrat or liberal-progressive, be okay, with a public sector workplace that is 89% White?
Structural and Institutional Racism
The phrase ‘structural and institutional racism’ is confusing. Not to me, but to some. Even good-meaning people can’t quite figure out how systemic patterns of race-based discrimination, over a period of time, constitutes a form of racism. Northerners, especially (remarkably, even those who are Black and Latino), have convinced themselves that racist behavior is only demonstrated in language (racial epithets), violence (KKK-esk), and limited to geography (southern region of United States). But the FDNY shows us that even in a liberal, progressive, Democratic leaning northern city, that is ethnically diverse, structural and systemic racism thrives.
The FDNY is a pitch-perfect example of how structural and institutional racism looks. And in this case, it has taken federal intervention to correct discriminatory practices in this public institution.
In 2007, the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the FDNY and the City of New York, alleging that the City discriminated against Black and Latino applicants. It took the Feds, not good will and the responsible stewardship of city leaders (agency heads, elected officials), to right this wrong.
In 2010, the Court found FDNY and the City of New York engaged in a pattern of discriminatory practices. The presiding Judge, Nicholas Garaufis, imposed several mandates to correct the practice of discrimination. That is the gist of the case. You should take the time to read the timeline of the case.
White FDNY firefighters are not taking these mandates and changes well. At a complaint hearing today, one White firefighter kvetched to Judge Garaufis that he feels discriminated against because he is “Caucasian.”
Here are a few more comments from White firefighters, who are upset about the Court’s ruling and the Judge’s actions. The New York Daily News reports:
More than 200 white firefighters rallied Monday outside a Brooklyn courthouse against the court-ordered fix for the FDNY entrance exam — but a hearing being held inside on the controversy was an almost total bust.
Only 36 of the 180 scheduled speakers showed up to object directly to Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis on the first of four days of hearings.
Garaufis has ordered a variety of solutions to create a more diverse department, including retroactive seniority and priority hiring of 293 minorities.
Each speaker inside, mostly current firefighters, was allowed two minutes to vent.
“Seniority was earned in the dead of night when these benefactors were home sleeping,” said firefighter Matthew Bland, a nine-year veteran.
“I am concerned for the future of my department … Standards must remain high,” said Chief Nicholas Corrado, the highest-ranking FDNY officer to testify.
“I feel I’m being discriminated against because I’m Caucasian,” firefighter Michael Butt said.
In defending itself against charges of discriminatory practices, FDNY has argued Blacks and Latinos did not pass entrance exams, suggesting either group does not have the intellectual capacity to pass the test. But what FDNY failed to mention is that their legacy hires – White firefighters with friends and family ties – are given preferential treatment when they fail exams, and are hired and promoted anyway. What about their intellectual capacity, when they don’t pass the test?
To achieve 89% all White status, in a City of New York agency, there has to be a number of discriminatory practices used to bar non-White applicants access. But it appears that FDNY party is over. Judge Garaufis has set in motion a process, to nip in the bud race-based discriminatory practices. That is a good thing. And shame on the City of New York’s stewardship for letting this get to a point where the Department of Justice filed a complaint, and a judge is telling them what they should have done on their own.
Sidebar: ’Fugazi’ is an apropos term to explain certain topics, like this situation with FDNY and the City of New York. From this point forward, on my stoop, I will use the word “Fugazi” when fitting. The term originates from the military. I recommend looking it up on Urban Dictionary.
Read more about the United States v. City of New York-FDNY Employment Discrimination Case here.