Following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent police brutality protests, the racist and sexist culture inside New York City's firehouses "deteriorated beyond repair," reports The New York Times, according to the accounts of Black firefighters.
"At first, it feels like you're part of something," explained former firefighter Kareem Charles, who said he experienced racist treatment from colleagues during his time in the FDNY. "And then it feels like sort of a lie. And you feel like they just needed you for the numbers."
While department leadership has embraced diversity initiatives and worked to diversify its primarily white ranks, the organization's "rigid culture" has not mixed well with such efforts, especially "at a time of pitched racial and political polarization," writes the Times.
"We've welcomed the folks in and now we have to make them feel welcome," said Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro. "We have to make them feel as if they belong. And in some cases, we failed."
That failure came to a head last year, as "white firefighters shared racist message and memes on their phones mocking [Floyd's] dying moments," reports the Times. They likened Black people to "wild animals" and "gloated about how police could 'legally shoot Black children,'" among other comments. The text thread was leaked to Black firefighters, who then complained; those involved claimed the content to be "funny."
The resulting punishments, according to an FDNY spokesman, were "the most severe discipline ever handed down in the history of the department." But still, many felt they fell short of handling what is seen "as deeply rooted problems in a department that has struggled for decades to improve its culture." Read more at The New York Times.