An Oakland, Calif., firefighter doing his duty to serve his community, conducting city-mandated inspections around Oakland Hills, actually had the police called on him, and on another occasion, he was
harassed questioned and recorded by a resident who thought he was suspicious even though he was in full uniform and had his fire truck parked nearby.
Again, we are witnessing black people not being able to exist without being greeted by racial biases and sometimes the outright ugly face of racism.
“It’s extremely unfortunate,” Fire Capt. Damon Covington, president of the Oakland Black Firefighters Association, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “From the outside, it certainly appears to be unfair and unwarranted. The fire service is a microcosm of the world. Racism exists in the world, and it exists in Oakland and everywhere else.”
As the Chronicle notes, Firefighter Kevin Moore’s inspection was among those routinely done by firefighters. Every summer, firefighters go to Oakland Hills to conduct vegetation-management inspections in order to cut the chances of a wildfire going out of control.
The firefighters try to speak to residents before going into the yards, but if no one is home, firefighters do the inspection anyway.
Not only are the inspections routine, but the Fire Department also makes sure that residents are aware of the upcoming inspections, sending out pamphlets before the program starts, holding community meetings and making sure neighborhood groups are aware.
However, this year, none of that worked in Moore’s favor.
“I try to put myself in other people’s shoes, like, if I see someone in my yard, I’d ask what they’re doing,” Moore said. “That’s why I always call out, ‘Hello! Hello! Oakland Fire Department!’ Because I want to be heard. I just don’t want somebody to look out their window and see somebody in their backyard. I’m not trying to be incognito.”
Firefighter Megan Bryan, Moore’s colleague, recalled getting a call from a 911 dispatcher who wanted to check to see if the inspections were indeed going on after a resident concerned about Moore reported in.
Bryan recalled feeling frustrated and annoyed, since neither she nor any of the other white firefighters have ever been reported for doing an inspection.
Later that same day, a resident emailed home-security footage to an Oakland police community-liaison officer ... a video that Vince Crudele, who supervises the inspection program, says shows that Moore was doing his inspection completely by the book, attempting to alert residents of his presence before conducting the inspection.
“It’s obvious he’s doing an inspection. Kevin’s wearing his blue wool firefighter pants, he’s got a radio and [a department] jacket and shirt on,” Crudele said. “It’s unfortunate that somebody would mistake an Oakland firefighter, a professional who would go into harm’s way every day to protect citizens, as someone who was there for criminal intent. Kevin’s out there doing his job well and representing the Oakland Fire Department with the highest integrity.”
Why did the resident think that Moore wasn’t legit? Because he was wearing sneakers—something Crudele says is also commonplace for firefighters doing vegetation inspections.
The Fire Department briefly paused the inspections because of technical issues, but as soon as they started up again, Moore was once again under scrutiny, with another resident questioning what Moore—who, again, was in full uniform—was doing.
Once again, Moore was following protocol. He knocked on the door, waited a bit, and yelled “Oakland Fire” before stepping into the yard, which had no gate, and beginning to take note of any vegetation hazards.
However, this time, as Moore was finishing up, he was met by a resident who was recording him on his cellphone.
“He kind of startled me,” Moore recalled. “He says, ‘Well, what are you doing here?’ I say, ‘We’re here doing our annual vegetation inspection.’ Then he asks for ID. I say, ‘No problem.’ He takes a picture of my ID and says I need to get a different one. I’ve had that ID for years. It’s kind of dark, and I’m more of a dark-skinned black guy, but you can still see me.”
Moore told Mr. Suspicious that if he was still worried, he could just look up the street to where “a big red fire engine” was parked.
Eventually, the man left Moore alone and started making excuses for his vegetation issues.
Bryan, in the meantime, said that she is worried about Moore’s safety, given what has been going on in the country, and plans to team up with him doing inspections so that she can do the walk-throughs while he takes notes. Bryan said that it should not be Moore’s job or the job of any other black person to work people through their biases.
“It’s our work to do with other white people, to check our implicit biases and racism,” she said. “It’s not fair to him, and it’s actually not safe for him to be going into these backyards due to the sociopolitical climate.”
As the Chronicle notes, Moore was among a group of firefighters who were honored by the City Council in 2008 for “bravery and heroism” after firefighters jumped into a ravine to save passengers who were trapped inside an overturned vehicle during a rainstorm. The firefighters also waded through a canal to search for a 10-month-old baby who had been ejected from the car.