Updated Sunday, June 11, 2017, 1:05 p.m. EDT: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Humboldt Bay Fire Chief Bill Gillespie as having worn and defended the wearing a “Police Lives Matter” pin. That has been corrected to accurately reflect that it was Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills who both wore a “Police Lives Matter” pin and then defended it by saying that Police Lives Matter is not a political movement.
Updated Friday, June 9, 2017, 11:25 p.m. EDT: A hearing at Eureka City Hall on Wednesday ended with firefighter Matt McFarland being told that he cannot wear a “Black Lives Matter” pin on his uniform.
KRCR reports that Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills saw McFarland wearing the pin on his uniform and felt it was against the Humboldt Bay Fire uniform code, so he reported it to the deputy fire chief, who then told Fire Chief Bill Gillespie. Gillespie agreed with Mills and told McFarland to remove the pin, saying that it violated HBF uniform codes that state that any pins worn on a uniform cannot be political and must be in good taste.
“We work to stay neutral,” Chief Gillespie said. “We don’t take a side or a stance on any kind of a movement because while it may support some members of the community, it may offend or put off other members of the community.”
Chief Mills, who brought the pin to Gillespie’s attention, has been under scrutiny because he wears a “Police Lives Matter” bracelet with his uniform while on duty.
Mills claimed during testimony at Wednesday’s hearing that “Police Lives Matter” is not a political movement as he argued that McFarland should not be able to wear his “Black Lives Matter” pin.
“If one employee is allowed to do something like this,” Chief Mills said, “then you get all kinds of employees wanting everything that they think is important ... to be worn on their uniform.”
Mills further argued that Black Lives Matter claims to be a political movement on its website, and it receives financial support from political agencies.
When asked about the fact that he wears a “Police Lives Matter” bracelet, Mills said, “It was on my wrist and it was approved because I have the authority to approve that for our officers.”
Apparently Chief Mills doesn’t see the contradiction or hypocrisy in his statements and actions.
A firefighter in Eureka, Calif., has filed a grievance with the Joint Powers Authority, the governing body of the Humboldt Bay Fire agency, after he was forced to remove a “Black Lives Matter” pin from his uniform shirt.
Matt McFarland is a second-generation firefighter, and he told KRCR that he wore the pin from November until March, when Chief Bill Gillespie ordered him to remove it.
According to Humboldt Bay Fire’s uniform policy, one pin that is fire-service-related and in good taste may be worn.
McFarland said that his pin meets that standard.
“My pin is without a doubt related to my service as a firefighter because recent political events have created an environment of heightened fear and anxiety among communities of color, and increased distrust of law enforcement. This sentiment is highly detrimental to our ability, as emergency responders, to do our jobs well,” McFarland said.
McFarland’s attorney said in a statement that banning the pin creates a “significant liability” for the department because “it constitutes unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”
A public hearing on the grievance will take place Wednesday morning at Eureka City Hall.
McFarland plans to have a press conference directly before the hearing.
Read more at KRCR.