Nine New York City firefighters have been suspended after an investigation found they were sharing several racist messages and memes on their phones.
According to the Associated Press, Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the department’s investigation began after multiple Black firefighters issued complaints about the messages. The nine firefighters were suspended without pay for periods ranging from days to six months as a result, per the AP.
One of those firefighters is expected to resign after his suspension, while three additional fire department officers were reprimanded.
The New York Times reports that the messages Black firefighters drew attention to include ones that mocked the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and memes about how police officers can legally shoot Black children. Many Black New York City firefighters say the messages are only a small portion of the racist behavior they’ve personally experience or heard about within the department.
More from the Times:
In a complaint shared with The New York Times, a Black firefighter in Brooklyn said he overheard white firefighters call George Floyd a “piece of shit.”
Alonzo Baker, another Black firefighter, filed a complaint with the department stating he was assaulted by a white civilian in the firehouse, who was drinking with white firefighters after hours and called him a racial slur.
Another active Black firefighter, who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution, shared an image of a white colleague’s social media profile, which The Times independently verified. One meme on the page showed an image of a white man being smothered by a naked Black woman.
“This man can’t breathe,” the meme read, “but you won’t see that on the news.”
During last year’s protests, three white fire lieutenants suggested turning fire hoses on protesters to disperse them, the department confirmed, an echo of some of the worst images to come out of the civil rights movement.
Only after several Black firefighters sought help from Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who is now the Democratic nominee for mayor, did the department issue guidance against using the tactic.
The Times reports that a spokesman for FDNY–which doesn’t fire its personnel often or suspend them for long periods of time–said the punishments for the nine firefighters were the most severe in the department’s history.
But to Black firefighters like Kareem Charles, it’s not enough. There’s still more than can and should be done for the majority-white FDNY to be as inclusive as it claims it wants to be.
From the Times:
“At first, it feels like you’re part of something,” said Mr. Charles, who left the department in December. “And then it feels like sort of a lie. And you feel like they just needed you for the numbers.”