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Posted April 7, 2010 EST

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Fire Captain Punished For Racially Charged E-mail
United States (Connecticut) - A fire captain whose e-mail ignited a racially charged furor in the department in December is back on the job following a recent two-week suspension. Capt. Gary Baker was disciplined for forwarding the e-mail with a link to offending content, which he said he was unaware of, to Fire Department members of various races last Nov. 30. That was the same day as an announcement was made of a settlement between the city and 12 white firefighters who'd sued over re-scoring a promotional test.

The e-mail, sent by a New York Fire Department battalion chief to Baker, and then forwarded by Baker to more than 100 city firefighters, stirred up already-smoldering racial tensions, prompting an outcry from black firefighters and a department wide letter of apology.

After a joint investigation of the incident by the city's labor relations and fire departments, "a due process hearing was held and Capt. Baker was suspended for two weeks without pay and was ordered to attend management sensitivity training offered through the Employee Assistance Program," said Fire Chief Brian Rooney in a statement issued last week through Mayor Bill Finch's spokeswoman, Elaine Ficarra. "Since the suspension, he has returned to work."

In mid-December, when the matter came to public attention, Rooney said he was "appalled" by the message, but called it an unintentional mistake on the part of Baker, who claimed he had not scrolled all the way through the e-mail about a 9/11 commemorative coin and did not see the link to racially offensive material.

Rooney did not respond to e-mailed questions asking for the reasoning behind the discipline and whether, in his opinion, the captain did anything wrong.

According to Ficarra, Baker's long record with the department was completely clear of discipline. But racially offensive material is taken very seriously and Larry Osborne, head of labor relations, told her the discipline imposed was deemed appropriate as a result of the investigation.

Fire union President Robert Whitbread declined to comment on the matter.

Lt. Shane Porter, president of the Firebird Society of Bridgeport, an organization of more than 50 black and Hispanic firefighters, said the Firebirds believe Baker should have been issued harsher punishment.

"Based on the severity of his charges, we are displeased with the level of discipline that has been issued to him," Porter said, speaking for the society.

The city's controversial fire promotion test was re-scored in 2008 because too few minorities would have been promoted, and each of the 12 who sued were bumped down the promotions list because of the change in scores.

In the settlement, the lawsuit plaintiffs, including a Puerto Rican, were restored to their original places and received retroactive pay as lieutenants. Three white lieutenants who'd been promoted in the meantime were demoted as a result.

In December, Porter said black firefighters were outraged by the e-mail and demanded that Rooney act. They felt the apology in a letter sent by the chief stating, "Sorry if anybody was offended by this," was insincere.

Porter said minority firefighters in the department had felt bias against them by whites in the department for a long time, but couldn't prove it because "everybody's always in denial."

They viewed the e-mail as confirmation of their suspicions, and demanded that Baker be disciplined for both the "insulting and degrading" linked material and for violating the department's policy that prohibits using departmental e-mail and Internet for personal reasons.

Both Baker and the New York battalion chief said they didn't know the message was there at the bottom of several forwarded lists of names and the commemorative coin message.

But there it was: An e-mail that stated, "You have to listen to the end. This black reverend rips into the blacks. Hurry and listen to this, before it gets pulled ..." and linked to a controversial message by the Rev. James Manning, the chief pastor of the ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem.

Manning attracted notoriety during the 2008 presidential campaign when he harshly criticized President Barack Obama in sermons, calling him, among other things, a "good House Negro" and a "long-legged mack daddy."

In his sermon, posted on YouTube.com under the title "Her name is Ms. Ann," Manning asserts, "Black people got a problem ... There's something wrong with the black man's mind: He doesn't understand the world ... He doesn't think correctly. I don't care what he is -- he could be a doctor, he could be an astrophysicist -- the (racial slur) ain't got no sense."

Mayor Bill Finch said back in December that the city's zero-tolerance policy on racism would be "fully enforced," although he did not specify whether Baker's act was considered racist.

Written by Connecticut Post

Courtesy of YellowBrix - YellowBrix


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