When I was a kid growing up in Harlem, as I walked across 125th Street end to end there were 3 firehouses. As I peeked inside on many occasion, I only recall seeing 2 black firemen among all 3 that employed about 30 per shift per station. They were all Irish and Italian, just like most of the city’s police force.
I would see the same as I passed by construction sites. For those jobs you had to be in the union and to be in the union someone had to sponsor you and of course, then, no whites would sponsor someone Black. All children tend to choose careers based on the role models they see. As a child I couldn’t understand why I saw so few minorities in these visible, respected positions.
There is always the implied false opinion by some that Blacks are not as smart and that's the reason for our absense. I knew a lot of dumb white kids in the mostly white schools I've attended. So I knew better. But what I did come to know then and its true now, is the insidious and incestuous means that are employed to keep others out from Wall Street to main street.
You will find in most of the major US cities, that many of the Italian and Irish fire fighters are the sons and grandsons, uncles, nephews and cousins of those who came before them. They not only pass on experience and wisdom they also pass along questions and answers for many of these qualifying exams. So like applicants are never without help from their own.
Black’s are told that we need to pull ourselves up by our boot straps and work harder, while some others sit back knowing that they already have all the answers or can easily get them. You take 3 generations and multiple versions of the same test and you compile them in a family, friends accessable data base that you share with your own kind and you too will begin to believe the lie that you are geneticly superior just because of your pigmentation.
If your home was burning and you called the fire department would you tell the operator only to send white firemen? No, that would be absurd.
11-year veteran firefighter James Watkins, who passed the promotional exam but didn’t score high enough to make the first round of promotions. He said he turned down an offer to join the “New Haven 20” Ricci lawsuit. He accused the Supreme Court of “changing the rules in the middle of the game” by coming up with new criteria for how cities should apply Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And he said he expects a backlash from victorious white colleagues and firefighter unions.
(Click on the play arrow to watch those comments.) On the other hand, he and NAACP President James Rawlings repeatedly said they saw silver linings in Monday’s ruling that will enable them to continue filing lawsuits and taking other actions in the name of advancing diversity. Which they plan to do. “It doesn’t end here,” Tinney said. “Folks can pop champagne bottles,” firefighter Douglas Wardlaw (pictured) said Tuesday, referring to the victorious plaintiffs in the case.
“They can smoke cigars all they want. But it’s not over. We’re still saving fighting the fight. We’re still saving lives. We’re still producing African-American, Latino and female heroes to look up to.” Whither Title VII? Though a “disappointment to civil rights,” the 5-4 majority opinion leaves open the door for people to file lawsuits challenging employers with discriminating under Title VII, Rawlings said.
He and Tinney said they feared that the conservative-leaning court would strike down the entire act. Instead, it ruled that New Haven’s specific actions in ignoring the results of this test were invalid, they said. Tinney added that the ruling doesn’t even necessarily order the city to certify the results of the test in question, a 2003 exam in which no African-Americans scored high enough to qualify for immediate promotions to lieutenant or captain.
Three black candidates passed the captain’s exam, none qualifying to be eligible for promotion to seven vacancies. A total of 19 black firefighters passed the lieutenants’ exam. None qualified to fill an initial eight vacancies, but at least three would have been eligible for subsequent promotions, according to court records.
“We believe this decision reinforces the ability of minorities to challenge questionable and discriminatory promotional examinations,” said Tinney. “It only affects the city of New Haven by defining and heightening the standard by which a city must adhere in order to voluntarily comply with Title VII in the face of exams that appear to have a discriminatory impact.”
The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, did resist an apparent effort by Justice Atonin Scalia to go further and rule unconstitutional the ignoring of test results based on their having a “disparate impact.” But the decision didn’t just kick the case back to the lower court. It reversed a lower-court ruling that had been in favor of the city. It gave the plaintiffs the summary judgment ruling they were looking for from the beginning. It ruled against the city specifically on the question of whether “disparate impact” — i.e. results that leave out minorities, as opposed to proof that a test was flawed — is enough of a criterion to toss an exam. Furthermore, it decreed a new standard for interpreting Title VII.
Kennedy’s opinion overturned decades of bipartisan precedent by decreeing that no longer can a city be liable for ignoring test results simply on the basis it expects to be sued — which is what New Haven did here. Even Mayor John DeStefano — who disagreed with the decision and was the target of the ruling — said Monday that he believes the decision will in fact lead the lower court to certify the results of the 2003 exam. And he and Pulitzer Prize-winning Supreme Court-watcher Linda Greenhouse said Monday that, by their reading of the various opinions issued, this decision could well presage a further eroding of civil-rights law.
National Picture Gary Tinney and James Rawlings insisted that the Firebirds and NAACP won’t give up. They will file suit to challenge the test results if indeed the lower court ends up certifying the 2003 promotional exams, Tinney said. Reverse-discrimination suits like Ricci are spreading across the country, Tinney said.
One such suit is taking place in Bridgeport; Bridgeport Firebirds President Shane Porter accompanied Tinney at Monday’s press conference. Tinney repeatedly emphasized the low numbers of not just black and Hispanics, but women, too, in fire department ranks, especially in leadership roles.
Only 13 of the New Haven department’s 89 leadership positions are filled by blacks or Latinos, he said; the department’s 411 firefighters include only 11 women. In Hamden, he said, a city that’s 33 percent black, just nine of 115 firefighters are black. Just 3 percent of New York City’s 11,000 firefighters are black, he said. Reversing numbers like these requires a lengthy battle, and strong civil rights laws, he said.Finally Justice For Black and Hispanic Firemen In NYC Some 1,500 Black and Latino applicants to the Fire Department of New York have settled a long-running lawsuit with the city and the Justice Department over racially discriminatory hiring practices at the nation's largest fire department. The agreement grants almost $100 million in back pay to those impacted. When the case was filed in 2007, the Fire Department was 90 percent white, even though African Americans and Latinos totaled half the city's population. Under the new agreement, the Fire Department will be required to change its recruiting policies in order to increase diversity and make the department more representative of the city's population. We discuss the settlement with two guests: Paul Washington, past president of the black firefighters group, the Vulcan Society of Black Firefighters, and captain of Engine 234 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; and Richard Levy, the case's lead attorney.