A senior captain in the Houston Fire Department kept a noose hanging in his locker, and according to the Houston Black Firefighters Association, the fire department, city council and mayor haven't taken the incident seriously.
"They basically gave him a slap on the wrist," firefighter Michael McCook tells Hair Balls. "The mayor said that he was probably just practicing tying knots, but there are no tactical procedures performed with a hangman's noose."
The whole thing started back in February, when a black firefighter saw the noose in Captain Keith Smith's locker, at Fire Station No. 41. The firefighter, along with another black firefighter, told several of their supervisors about seeing the noose. That's when things got messy.
Before either of the supervisors acted on the situation, Otis Jordan, the president of the black fire fighters association, heard about it and contacted the the chief of the fire department, Phil Boriskie. An assistant and deputy chief were then sent to the fire station to check out Smith's locker, where they found the noose, hanging on a towel hook under a towel.
According to a release from the fire department, "Due to the nature of the process used for discovery, the legal punishment available in this situation is a notation in the Captain's personnel file. It should be noted that in discussion with the Captain he did not appear to have any ill intent regarding the noose."
"As far as the Houston Fire Department is concerned, the incident with the noose is finished," Assistant Chief Karen Dupont tells Hair Balls. "It was a poor judgment call of cultural ignorance."
Dupont says that Smith had the noose hanging in his locker for several years, tossed in after a knot tying exercise. Smith was given a written repremand for having the noose in his locker, but trouble is, so were the two fire fighters that reported seeing it.
"It was like they were trying to send a message through the deparment, like this is what will happen to you if you break the chain of command," firefighter Kenneth Ware tells Hair Balls.
The black firefighters association held a press conference in front of City Hall earlier today, calling for a zero-tolerance policy for any symbols of racial hatred for all city departments. Jordan said that he talked to Judge Ed Emmett about the noose, and Emmett told him that if it happened on Harris County property, the employee would be fired.
"Don't blame us," Jordan said. "We didn't bring the noose to the station."
Update: The Houston Professional Fire Fighters union has issued its own statement, saying they "closely monitor and investigate all concerns about discrimination...The fact is, there's very little support among our nearly 4,000 members of all races for Captain Jordan's position or agreement with his portrayals of the Houston Fire Department. Our members generally prefer that Captain Jordan and his activist supporters avoid recklessly stereotyping the men and women" of the HPFFA and HFD.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.