Separate and Unequal: Disciplinary Practices in the Boston Fire Department

Disparate Discipline in the Least Racially Diverse Public Safety Agency in Boston

In an open letter to Boston Fire Commissioner Finn released today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and the Boston Society of Vulcans raise serious discrimination concerns surrounding disciplinary practices in the Boston Fire Department (BFD).

Firefighter Octavius Rowe is one of the few Black firefighters in Boston and serves as the Vice President of the Vulcans, an organization that advocates for diversity in BFD. He was placed on administrative leave earlier this month while BFD allegedly investigates his social media activity.

As our letter explains, it is discriminatory for BFD to discipline Mr. Rowe for his social media activity while failing to discipline White firefighters for similar activity.

Even a cursory investigation of other firefighters’ social media presence reveals a host of deeply problematic posts. For example, White firefighters employed by BFD have created racist and offensive posts that:

  • Encourage “erasing” President Obama;
  • Disparage Black football players protesting against police brutality; and
  • Display a firefighter menacingly wielding an automatic weapon while wearing President Trump paraphernalia.

To our knowledge, BFD has not disciplined any of these White firefighters. Nevertheless, BFD has aggressively singled out Mr. Rowe for disciplinary action and inquiries into this social media activity. Minority firefighters should not be penalized.

BFD is widely recognized as the least racially diverse public safety agency in Boston. Mayor Walsh’s Administration recently received an “F” in the NAACP’s “report card” because of the lack of diversity in the Boston Fire Department. BFD’s reliance on discriminatory disciplinary practices exacerbates this problem – and alienates Boston’s minority communities.

We call on BFD to immediately cease these discriminatory practices and to ensure evenhandedness.

Our open letter to the Boston Fire Department appears below.

The Boston Herald and NECN featured this advocacy work.

Disparate Discipline in BFD FINAL