Racist Tweets Rock NY Fire Department (Participation)

Racist Tweets Rock NY Fire Department

The ouster of the commissioner’s son for tweeting about Jews, blacks and “Obama lovers” highlights diversity issues.

Three FDNY firefighters responding to a fire on Dec. 26, 2012 (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Late Monday, news broke that an aspiring New York firefighter would resign from the city’s fire department, where he was working as an EMT, because of racially inflammatory tweets. Making the matter even more newsworthy and shocking is that the author of the offensive tweets is the son of the city’s fire commissioner, Salvatore Cassano.

Joe Cassano’s targets included Jews, blacks and “Obama lovers.” His missives include the statement, “I like jews about as much as hitler,” and during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday he tweeted, “MLK could go kick rocks for all I care, but thanks for the time and a half today.”

He also tweeted the term “shwoog,” which is a slang term for the n-word, according to the Urban Dictionary. In addition to his father’s prominent role leading the Fire Department of New York, Cassano’s tweets drew attention because the FDNY has struggled with diversity for years.

Though the NYPD has been the subject of countless tragedies, controversies and lawsuits related to accusations of racial discrimination — from the Abner Louima case to the Amadou Diallo shooting — the FDNY has struggled in a less high-profile but significant manner as well.

According to a 2010 Village Voice cover story, “New York’s fire department may, in fact, be the whitest large institution run by a major city in the United States. Your chance of becoming a firefighter in New York if you aren’t white, Irish, or Italian, and come from a family of firefighters has traditionally been very slim.”

Just last year the city was ordered to pay $128 million to black and Latino applicants who alleged the city had used a special entrance exam to intentionally exclude them from the FDNY. Quoting from the lawsuit at the time, CNN reported, “According to the most recent census data, black residents make up 25.6 percent of New York City’s population; when this case was filed in 2007, black firefighters accounted for only 3.4 percent of the department’s force. In other words, in a city of over eight million people, and out of a force with 8,998 firefighters, there were only 303 black firefighters. This pattern of underrepresentation has remained essentially unchanged since at least the 1960s.”

The U.S. District Court judge also ruled that the city was to hire 239 black and Latinos.

The Village Voice noted that in a city in which 35 percent of the population is white, 90 percent of the fire department is white. By comparison, the NYPD is more than 16 percent black and 18 percent Latino.

The FDNY is far from alone in grappling with diversity issues. As of 2000, while just over 8 percent of the nation’s firefighters were black, and just over 8 percent were Latino, blacks made up more than 12 percent of the U.S. population, and Latinos 16 percent.

During her nomination process before she was confirmed for the Supreme Court, one of the most heavily scrutinized lower-court cases of Justice Sonia Sotomayor was a 2009 case involving allegations of reverse discrimination at the New Haven Fire Department in Connecticut. In Ricci v. DeStefano, a white firefighter sued after the results for the exams necessary for promotions within the department — an exam he passed — were thrown out. The department did so in an effort to adhere to Title VII of civil rights law, which strives to prevent conscious and calculated discrimination, as well as unintentional discrimination, and therefore requires employers to take into account the racial impact of promotion and hiring decisions. No black firefighters passed the exam.

Though Sotomayor was one of the justices who rejected the appeal of Ricci, the white firefighter, when the case went before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Ricci won.

But ultimately, testing seems to be merely a symptom of a larger problem when it comes to diversity and the FDNY. It is a career notorious for being one in which fathers help sons get jobs, brothers help brothers and uncles help nephews. Having institutional support can go a long way, in everything from applying to the FDNY to prepping for the notorious exam and simply having the necessary support network to get through it all.

Understanding this, Commissioner Cassano previously met with aspiring African-American firefighters to discuss some of the department’s diversity challenges. He didn’t know that soon his son, whom he was apparently trying to fast-track into the department like so many fire department-connected fathers before him, would emerge as one of the institution’s most high-profile diversity challenges.

To his credit, Commissioner Cassano didn’t try to pass the buck, and had this to say of his son:

“I am extremely disappointed in the comments posted online by my son Joseph, which do not reflect the values — including a respect for all people — that are held by me, my family and the FDNY. I have worked hard for many years, as have so many people in the agency, to make the FDNY more diverse and inclusive. There is no place — and I have no tolerance — for statements that would harm the good reputation we enjoy due to our honorable service to all New Yorkers.

“As a parent, this is very painful for me, but I believe my son has made the right decision [to resign],” Cassano continued. “I love him very much, and with the support and love of our entire family, we will get through this together.”

Keli Goff is The Root’s political correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

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9 thoughts on “Racist Tweets Rock NY Fire Department (Participation)

  1. I think Joe Cassano made the right decision of resigning, due to his uncalled posts on Twitter. It shows that he accepts the consequences for the actions he made. If your smart, you know that everything you post on the internet/ social networks can be tracked back many years, and it is on there forever. Thats why you never post anything about drugs or derogatory comments, because it can prevent you from getting that “dream job.” The twitter comments Joe Cassano made were just very immature and disrespectful. Millions of Jews were gassed and cremated. Isn’t it a firefighters job to protect, serve, and save all people? No matter there race or gender. And about the MLK Day tweet. That tweet proves how uneducated and ungrateful of a person he is. I mean Joe wouldn’t have even gotten “time and a half” if MLK didnt accomplish what he did while he was alive. After reading the population percentages in New York, I believe that the NYFD should accurately try their best to match there employees race percentage with the city’s race percentage. That being so, only 35% of NYFD workforce should be caucausian, the rest being the other races that populate New York. It’s a good thing that Joe Cassano resigned because who knows if he would have saved/helped a victim that was Jewish, African American, or any other race that he discriminates against.

  2. If I were Commissioner Cassano, I would very embarrassed. The views of his son reflect who he is as person because he raised Joe. However, when he said they will “get through this together”, what was he thinking? Racism isn’t something that you can make somebody ‘get through’. What he should have said in my opinion would be something along the lines of how he raised his son. I do agree that resigning was the best decision for him because of the constant ridicule that Joe will receive. I don’t believe that you can be a public figure and fighting for your city if you can’t even fight for public issues.

  3. I totally agree that commissioner Cassano did the right thing by resigning. Even a childs actions can show alot about his home life. These tweets in my opinion reflect how the commissioner raised his son. If he raised his son to appreciate diversity, this would not have happened.
    “The U.S. District Court judge also ruled that the city was to hire 239 black and Latinos.” I believe in a merit based hiring system, while this is mandating we use racial profiling while hiring. I foresee a lawsuit very similar to affirmative action lawsuits.

  4. Cassano did the right thing by resigning but it just sucks to know, from this, that he probably didn’t raise his son to appreciate and respect diversity and people of other races. Also it puts a lot of tension toward the fire department with comment and tweets like his son put. And its just very embarrassing that comments like that can be made in a place of business where you have grown people handling theres. It was very smart of him to resign because because of his son, Cassano would have been dealing with a whole lot of animosity and negativity at the work place because, like others mentioned in there comments, his son reflects who he is.

  5. I think that it was a good call that Cassano resigned after he posted those comments on the twitter. I think that it is kind of disappointing to see someone that works for the law talk about other people like that. Especially when his father is the fire commissioner, I bet that just disappointed him really hard. But what I thought was weird was he said that they will get through this, well they might get through the problem but they can never get through racism. That is something you have to live with your whole life. If Cassano did stay as a firefighter that fire department would have been in even deeper water then it already is because many people would go crazy for letting him stay or at least make his life miserable.-Nohemi Meza

  6. This is a very interesting article. I think that if I was the father I would be really embarrassed. I would not even want to go back to my job in one way but in another it would have been my son the one that had done it so, I would get over it but it would take some time. Another thing that I found really interesting is what they did; they paid $128 million to blacks and Latinos. I would have never thought that they would force white people do such a thing. I was not surprised however with the Latinos and Blacks not getting hired, that happens not only with that job but with many more jobs. I think that what they did about forcing them to pay those Latinos and Blacks that money was a good idea in a way. That way they will learn their lesson and not repeat the same mistake. But in the other hand they are making the government lose money. What they did would be a good idea to do many other places to stop all those other business and government properties from doing things like these. Everyone should be given the same opportunity to whatever they apply if their meet the criteria and seem prepared for the job. What also stood out to me was the fact the dad was on his son’s side and said “we will get through this together”. So he is not really caring after all what people are saying.

  7. I feel that what Cassano said was very disrespectful. As the son of a fire commissioner you should be putting things like that out their for society to read. First of all giving his father a bad reputation and not just that he’s saying some things about other races that’s just uncalled for. The remarks that he makes about jews and MLk are just really disrespectful. According to a 2010 Village Voice cover story, “New York’s fire department may, in fact, be the whitest large institution run by a major city in the United States. With the behavior of the commissioner son no wonder why its the largest. It makes you think that the whole department promotes racial profiling. If your another race it makes almost impossible to become a New York Firefighter. They paid $128 million dollars to black and Latinos. This doesn’t surprise me that not that many blacks or Latinos were being hired because they are minorities and typically society wants it to stay that way.

  8. I don’t think that Cassano had a real choice in his decision to resign. If he didn’t, it would have reflected very poorly on the fire department, in which his dad is essentially in charge of. His derogatory comments that he made online were also completely unnecessary. Granted, environments such as being a firefighter, soldier, professional athlete, etc. promotes hyper-masculinity, which often involves the exchange of profanity among others in your group, the internet was not the place to put what he was saying on. He failed to realize that, once on the internet, its never coming down, whether it be from a blog or a social media website, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. His crude comments that he posted also affects the overall reputation of the Fire Department, causing investigations regarding diversification of the Fire Department to begin, while decreasing the minority population’s faith in the Fire Department coming to their aid when emergency arises. In the end, however, Cassano made the right decision in resigning from his position, as he is essentially removing himself and his opinions from the Fire Department, eliminating that negative affiliation that the Fire Department had the possibility of getting due to his word usage.

  9. The statements that Joe Cassano said on twitter targeting Jews, Blacks and “Obama lovers” were clearly disrespectful. There are always consequences for people’s actions and he should have realized that before he felt the need to write racist remarks on a social network. The FDNY has dealt with discrimination many years prior to Joe Cassano’s tweets. New York’s fire department is considered to be the largest white institution run by a major city in the Untied Staes. While this does not already bring discrimination upon other races, the son of the commissioner did not help by writing derogatory comments on the internet.

    Racial discrimination has been a major subject within the FDNY firefighter community. African Americans and Latino Americans stated that the city had used a special entrance exam to intentionally exclude them from the FDNY. The chances of being of any race other than white and a part of the FDNY is very slim.

    Joe Cassano’s decision to resign was in his best interest. If he did not resign after the comments that he made that brought more attention to the FDNY, it would give off the impression that things are going to continue the way that they are. The issue of discrimination has not been resolved over the many years within the fire department in New York. Allowing an individual to stay within the fire department would show that his actions have no consequence to them and that anything will go.

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