In the latest episode of charges of racial discrimination in the city fire department, black firefighters are now angry with the department's acting chief for appointing a white officer as the department's new Equal Employment Opportunity officer.
Acting Chief Theodore Coleman, who is black, appointed Battalion Chief James Richard Lockrow as the EEO officer two weeks ago to replace Philip Matthews, a black officer who was promoted to deputy fire chief.
The appointment set off a new round of alarms for the black firefighters who feel Coleman appointed a white EEO officer to make blacks reluctant to file complaints of discrimination. The way some black firefighters see the appointment, it is a move by Coleman to limit complaints so he can claim to have the department's race problem in hand.
Racial friction has sparked controversy in the department for several years. The main complaint from blacks in the department is that the department is about three-quarters white in a predominantly black city and that fewer than 15 percent of the department's officials are black.
Since the coming of home rule, the city's elected mayors have consistently appointed blacks as chief of the department to relieve some of the pressure of the complaints of discrimination in the department. Some white firefighters, on the other hand, contend that blacks are being promoted only because they are black, and they say that promotion by merit for white firefighters has been abandoned.
Only last week six white former firefighters filed suit aginst the city in U.S. District Court claiming they had been discriminated against in early 1980 when they none of them was promoted to deputy chief.
And earlier this year the department hired 88 new firefighters, although the city's Office of Human Rights had not completed hearings into allegations of discrimination in hiring. The new hirings prompted black firefighters to criticize Mayor Marion Barry, charging that his administration should have waited on the decision. Barry responded by saying the department was low on firefighters and by telling a newspaper columnist: "Screw the black firefighters. . . . If one baby had gotten burned up or one adult died, I would have been run out of town."
Now the controversy over discrimination in the department is aimed at the appointment of a white EEO officer.
"We've addressed the matter with the chief," said Romeo Spaulding, president of the Progressive Firefighters Association, a black group. "We're dealing with the merits of what an EEO officer is supposed to be . . . we are concerned about the appointment."
William Mould, president of Local 36, the Firefighters' Association, said he believes Lockrow is a fair person and can do the EEO job as well as the three former EEO officers who have been blacks.
"Lockrow's known as a fair man," said Mould. "He's very strict but I think everyone will tell you he is tough on blacks and whites. We're not endorsing him but I believe he's fair and I believe a white man can do an EEO job."
Chief Coleman was not available for comment.
But though Spaulding takes a tactful approach to describing his group's concern about Lockrow's appointment, some black firefighters are incensed that a black fire chief would put cases of racial discrimination in the hands of a white person.
"We've all suffered discrimination," said one black firefighter who asked not to be named for fear of losing his job. "The chief is black, he's suffered discrimination too. But once these guys get promoted to that level they start believing that they got there by hard work alone and they forget about discrimination. Discrimination becomes a cop-out for anyone else still trying to become chief, is the way they see it."
Some black firefighters are upset not only that the EEO officer is white, but also that the white chosen for the job is Lockrow. Lockrow is known as an old-line disciplinarian (with the nickname 'the General') who helped collect legal defense funds for two fire officials found guilty of race and sex discrimination against two female firefighters in 1976.
Lockrow said he helped raise money to defend those two men only because the two were entitled to the money from a union fund in the firefighters' union.
"When we had a black EEO officer the whites were complaining," said Lockrow. "Now we have a white officer and it's the same ball of wax. You have just as many black racists as white racists. They don't give a man a chance to give a fair accounting of himself in the job. It's not fair."
Lockrow, who worked with Coleman when the acting chief was a captain and Lockrow a lieutenant in his squad, said he wanted to be EEO officer because of the challenge of facing what he considers the department's biggest problem in the past few years.
"In the past the credibility of this department on the question of race has been nil," said Lockrow. "I'm going to make sure we get done the proper training, the proper promotion procedure, sensitivity to race among officials, and follow the federal guidelines, the whole nine yards."
Meanwhile the black firefighters wait for the chief's response to their questions about the appointment.
"This department has a troubled record on race," said Spaulding of the black firefighters' union. "We've spoken to the chief and we'll see what he does before we make any further comment."