New allegations of racism at HFD

January 24, 2011 8:16:00 PM PST
A local activist group is speaking out against the Houston Fire Department in what has become the latest in a long line of complaints of racism within the department.

The city is now investigating a complaint from a Latino firefighter who says he was humiliated after finding a racially offensive display in his fire station locker.

The incident allegedly happened the last week of September at Fire Station 42 on the city's east side. The firefighter who was targeted requested a transfer. Now a local civil rights organization is urging the federal government to investigate.

The alleged target of the racism is Joseph Salcido, a Hispanic firefighter. Salcido claims to have found his gear hanging from the station's ceiling by a noose with a sign attached.

"Learn your f'in job Mexican. Be Glad you're not in Arizona," civil rights activist Sylvia Gonzales said about what the sign read.

It allegedly happened in late September after Salcido supposedly did poorly on a test. At a news conference on Monday morning, these civil rights activists demanded more to stop what they are calling civil rights hate crimes.

Meanwhile, the city says it has launched an investigation.

"We take any allegation of racial harassment very seriously," said City Attorney Dave Feldman. "This matter has been under investigation by the OIG and it is my understanding that the investigation is near completion. Nothing further can be said until the investigation is complete."

"This has got to stop," civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen said. "The city won't do it and we need the federal government to come in."

They believe the city has fallen short on its promise to clean up the racism and sexism within the fire department.

"We want to be proud of our fire department. We don't want this to go on any longer. This is a thing of the past and it doesn't have any role in the city of Houston at this time," said Dave Atwood with the Houston Peace & Justice Center.

Just last week, a federal report agreed, citing Houston firefighter Jane Draycott was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her gender.

On Monday, those civil rights leaders call that behavior unprofessional, barbaric and intolerable.

"We want our firefighters to be professionals. We want the department to be considered professional and when there is racism and sexism among the members of the fire department that is not professionalism," said one civil rights leader. "So I would just like to call the fire department, the fire chief and everybody involved in that operation to be the professionals we all want them to be."

The local civil rights leaders had some pretty clear messages today to the firefighters who contribute to this hostile work environment. Their message is, "We want you out and we want you criminally investigated."

The group is now calling on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to take legal action against the city.