A group of retired Black Chicago firefighters say they were disgusted — but not surprised — to find out current fire department members have been accused of taking down a Black Lives Matter banner hung on a Kenwood neighborhood fence.
“The Chicago Fire Department says it’s now investigating this, but this is nothing new to them,” retired CFD Capt. Ezra McCann said Tuesday outside Station 45 in Bronzeville, home to city Firetruck No. 15.
That’s the truck that was spotted Saturday morning on Cornell Drive near 47th Street, where two white men reportedly got out and took down the banner, according to a woman who posted about the incident on a neighborhood watch group social media platform.
Department officials say an internal investigation is underway, but it wouldn’t mark the first allegation of racism tied to the station at 46th Street and Cottage Grove. In 1987, firefighter James McNally showed up for his shift at Station 45 in blackface to protest an affirmative action policy.
McNally went on to become president of the city firefighters’ union.
“We could write a few books about what we have experienced as racism in this town as city workers,” McCann said, leading more than a dozen other Black former department members rallying outside the station to voice their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, to call for the city to reckon with the department’s troubled past — and to urge Mayor Lori Lightfoot to take swift action.
“Racism equates to poor service. If this is what we’ve got servicing us in our community, we’re not sure that our people are being respected and served correctly,” McCann said. “We think these men here need to be lifted out of our community, and maybe they need to go somewhere where they won’t have to come in contact with Black people.”
CFD spokesman Larry Langford said the internal investigation is focusing on at least two employees assigned to Truck 15. They’d have time to respond to any potential allegations before department brass considers punishment.
“The CFD strives to serve every neighborhood with equal response and concern,” Langford said in a written statement. “We have no tolerance for any conduct that demeans any of our residents and visitors, all of whom we have taken a sworn oath to serve. I assure you we will rapidly get to the bottom of this and if found to be accurate discipline and corrective action will be swift and just.”