Racist Tweets Rock NY Fire Department

The ouster of the commissioner's son for tweeting about Jews, blacks and "Obama lovers" highlights diversity issues.

Three FDNY firefighters responding to a fire on Dec. 26, 2012 (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Three FDNY firefighters responding to a fire on Dec. 26, 2012 (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Late Monday, news broke that an aspiring New York firefighter would resign from the city’s fire department, where he was working as an EMT, because of racially inflammatory tweets. Making the matter even more newsworthy and shocking is that the author of the offensive tweets is the son of the city’s fire commissioner, Salvatore Cassano.

Joe Cassano’s targets included Jews, blacks and “Obama lovers.” His missives include the statement, “I like jews about as much as hitler,” and during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday he tweeted, “MLK could go kick rocks for all I care, but thanks for the time and a half today.”

He also tweeted the term “shwoog,” which is a slang term for the n-word, according to the Urban Dictionary. In addition to his father’s prominent role leading the Fire Department of New York, Cassano’s tweets drew attention because the FDNY has struggled with diversity for years.

Though the NYPD has been the subject of countless tragedies, controversies and lawsuits related to accusations of racial discrimination — from the Abner Louima case to the Amadou Diallo shooting — the FDNY has struggled in a less high-profile but significant manner as well.

According to a 2010 Village Voice cover story, “New York’s fire department may, in fact, be the whitest large institution run by a major city in the United States. Your chance of becoming a firefighter in New York if you aren’t white, Irish, or Italian, and come from a family of firefighters has traditionally been very slim.” 

Just last year the city was ordered to pay $128 million to black and Latino applicants who alleged the city had used a special entrance exam to intentionally exclude them from the FDNY. Quoting from the lawsuit at the time, CNN reported, “According to the most recent census data, black residents make up 25.6 percent of New York City’s population; when this case was filed in 2007, black firefighters accounted for only 3.4 percent of the department’s force. In other words, in a city of over eight million people, and out of a force with 8,998 firefighters, there were only 303 black firefighters. This pattern of underrepresentation has remained essentially unchanged since at least the 1960s.”

The U.S. District Court judge also ruled that the city was to hire 239 black and Latinos.

The Village Voice noted that in a city in which 35 percent of the population is white, 90 percent of the fire department is white. By comparison, the NYPD is more than 16 percent black and 18 percent Latino.

The FDNY is far from alone in grappling with diversity issues. As of 2000, while just over 8 percent of the nation’s firefighters were black, and just over 8 percent were Latino, blacks made up more than 12 percent of the U.S. population, and Latinos 16 percent.