White male privilege at the FDNY

Earlier this month federal judge Nicholas Garaufis –the arbitrator in the case against the FDNY for discriminatory employment practices- said it would appoint a monitor to ensure the agency finally ends a long history of favoritism for white applicants.

Understandably, the Judge has a hard time trusting an agency that for over four decades has prevented minorities from joining its ranks. The result is an overwhelmingly white fire department that does not reflect the population of the city it serves: only 9% of our firefighters are black or Latino, in a city where almost half the population belongs to racial or ethnic minorities.

The independent monitor will be installed at the FDNY for 10 years to oversee recruitment practices, audit and investigate compliance, the judge said.

Judge Garaufis had already ruled that the Department’s entrance exam discriminated against minorities by including questions that do not test firefighting skills and ordered to change it.

The need for a monitor comes because, as Judge Garaufis himself pointed out, the Bloomberg Administration has “dug in and fought back” recommendations to end flawed recruitment practices.

The City’s lawyers argued that half of the 61,000 applicants whom will take the exam in January belong to minority groups, and vowed to appeal the order for an independent monitor.

Their reaction is incomprehensible given a long history of bad practices at the FDNY. And it makes little sense considering the progress at other agencies.

Making the FDNY a diverse agency can only be done with real commitment to equity in access, retention and mobility. The City’s Police Department has gone through a similar process of diversification and today we have a law enforcement agency that looks like this city.

But if the City chooses to challenge court efforts we will only set ourselves for more years of fighting against this “stubborn bastion of white male privilege,” as Judge Garaufis perfectly described the agency.

A new hearing to discuss possible names for a monitor is announced for tomorrow. We hope to see a City much more inclined to collaborate in the fight for a diversified Fire Department.

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