For the second day in a row, Houston Fire Department Chief Phil Boriskie stood behind the podium at a news conference to address violent and racist messages that have been directed at the department's African-American firefighters. Today's incident involved someone making a "morally offensive" comment on an HFD radio frequency.
The second verse today was much like the first verse yesterday: lots of strong language and little else. Doing his best Peter Finch impersonation from the movie Network, Boriskie said, "You know me as being a pretty calm and collected person ... but I'm having difficulty today. Quite frankly, I'm mad, mad as hell."
Boriskie said that at 7:19 a.m. this morning someone "hijacked" about eight seconds of air time on HFD's Tac 2 frequency channel. He refused to detail what was said; however Capt. Otis Jordan, president of the Houston Black Firefighters Association, told Hair Balls that the offending person said, "Fuck all you niggers in HFD."
HFD radio technician Steve Harris compared the department's code-protected radio frequency to a locked home. He said it looked as though someone who knew the code unlocked the door, and then someone else snuck in and made the offensive statement. Boriskie said the radio used to transmit the message most likely does not belong to HFD or the City of Houston and that the radio used did not have an identifiable tracking number, as do all of HFD's radios.
The radio incident came slightly more than 24 hours after a pair of women firefighters walked into their quarters at Station 54 at Bush Intercontinental Airport and found racist and sexist graffiti scrawled on their lockers. Boriskie responded to yesterday's incident the same way he did today, by calling for the city's so-called independent Office of Inspector General, comprised of Houston police officers and HFD arson investigators, to look into the matter. Boriskie also said he's asked the Federal Communications Commission to look into today's radio transmission.
This news does not inspire confidence in Jordan.
When asked if he trusts OIG to investigate, he said, "Not so much. In previous cases dealing with minorities ... a lot of times they came back with unfounded conclusions and then [the accused] gets off because it's firemen investigating firemen. In the OIG you've got police and firefighters, and sometimes the cases go to the police, but what you've got to look at is that these people all work in the same office everyday and work together, so if I worked there I could say, 'Lean on this guy,' or 'Go light on this guy.' It's not really this independent [agency]."
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Jordan says his organization is going through the process of asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate. Boriskie said during the news conference that he has "full confidence" in the OIG investigation but that he is not opposed to another agency helping out.
Jordan says he has never seen such ferocious and persistant acts of racism within the department in his nearly 30 years at HFD.
"I've never seen it this bad," he told Hair Balls. "Even when I first came in, we thought it was bad, but this is totally different. Day after day after day, you know. It's unbelievable. Where is it going to end?"
Update: As always, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters union has issued a statement from its president, Jeffrey Caynon. "From a personal perspective, as a person of color, I also believe that Chief Boriskie has been treated despicably by opportunist activists whose provocations offer nothing in the way of solutions.."