Black firefighters in NC claim racism amid larger calculations


WINSTON-SALEM, NC (AP) – They threw their new cell phone on top of the station house and put nails under the wheels of their van. When he was ready to answer the call, someone poured tobacco juice into his boots. It was too much for Timika Ingram.

“It caused me pain, sleepless nights, suffering, anxiety,” said Ingram, who had been collecting injustices as a firefighter in North Carolina for four years.

Black firefighters who suffered similar treatment at the Winston-Salem Fire Department recently brought their complaints before the city. The grievance filed in October calls for the dismissal of leader William “Trey” Mayo for failing to discipline white firefighters who, according to the group, have created a hostile work environment with personal and social media comments.

“It’s a fierce problem that is even more fraught with disease and even more damaging to the lives of individuals working here because of the current boss,” said Omnibus, a 28-year-old veteran firefighter who heads the group calling himself a leader.

Across the country, firefighters are facing cases of racism and discrimination as part of a growing movement to call for and address racial injustice in America.

Two black women sued the city of Denver in September, saying the fire department discriminated against them because of their gender and race. One of the captains allegedly overseeing his training said he “must hold his head and act as a slave” to complete the program.

Last year, a black firefighter sued city officials in Lansing, Michigan, saying that nothing had been done to prevent racial discrimination within the fire department after receiving hostile remarks and finding a banana on the windshield of a fire truck assigned to it. He filed another lawsuit in the summer.

In July, a white Delaware firefighter was charged with hate crimes and harassment after allegedly sending threatening messages to a black ambulance and two part-time workers, one black and the other white with a black family member, the News Journal reported.

The Winston-Salem group claimed two white captains spoke of running over demonstrators protesting the police assassination of George Floyd and of tying a firefighter’s loop to a rope and a bunch of hours in November 2017.

Mayor Lee Garrity declined to comment, citing the state’s personnel privacy law. He said the city, through a Charlotte-based company, has launched a so-called “climate assessment” that assesses the entire fire department in terms of diversity, race, gender and sexual orientation. The report is due by the end of the year, he said.

“We’ve had very few grievances or complaints in the last few years,” Garrity said. “But I’m sure there are opportunities for improvement.”

Mayo did not return any more phone calls and asked for a comment.

In early November, Penn said the climate assessment had not yet begun, adding in an email that department administrators, including Mayo, “tried to intimidate and intimidate our members by walking in during interviews.”

Ingram said of her treatment throughout the rookie school, “You develop alligator skin so you can go further in the process. And then hopefully once you get in, you can be an advocate or listen if anything happens because a lot of things went with me.

He officially joined the department in July 2006. He said almost immediately the other firefighters stole the food and took his uniform out of his personal space.

The cell phone incident was a significant factor in Ingram’s possible departure because without it, her three children had no way to reach her. He said his white colleagues asked if he had really left his phone where he was last seen, and even pretended to be looking for it.

– My daughter was a locked child when she was 9 years old. My kids had no other way to get in touch. They didn’t know how. Something went wrong with my kids and I couldn’t get to them, and they couldn’t get to me either. “- He told. – This place just started it.

Ingram was relocated and expressed concern about the treatment of a superior who did not deal with them, he said.

“I was with him,‘ I’m fighting a losing battle. ’He can talk about anything he wants, he can say what he said,” he said.

In July 2010, Ingram quit. His life turned down for a while. He said he married someone “to cover up the pain,” but that ended in divorce. His car was taken back and he was homeless. He was absent from work for four months, and doctors told him that lupus developed as a result of the stress he experienced as a firefighter.

Retired Winston-Salem firefighter Gary Waddell was discriminated against on another plane in 1989 because of his marriage to a white woman who visited the station shortly after his appointment.

“I didn’t think of anything, but when my wife came into this fire department, my supervisor, who was a captain, was told that my wife could no longer come to the station to visit,” Waddell said. . “But the other members of the crew I worked with were their wives.” But mine didn’t know. So that’s how I started my career. “

Today, Ingram works for the medical services in Charlotte, the same job he undertook after leaving the fire department. He has worked out the recovery of the car and is pursuing a degree in psychology. But he’s still thinking about the career he had to leave.

“I just wished I could stay,” he said. “Really, because I worked hard to get there.” I was getting ready to get there.