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Thread: Judge Rules NYC Violated Firefighters' Rights

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    Administrator Neil's Avatar
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    Judge Rules NYC Violated Firefighters' Rights

    Updated: 06-24-2003 03:06:53 PM

    Judge Rules NYC Violated Firefighters' Rights

    ............
    LARRY NEUMEISTER
    Associated Press

    NEW YORK (AP) -- The city violated the First Amendment rights of two firefighters and a police officer when it fired them for riding on a parade float in blackface in 1998, a judge ruled Tuesday.

    U.S. District Judge John E. Sprizzo said the government ``may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because a segment of society finds it offensive.''

    He rejected statements by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani that the firings stemmed from concerns over civil unrest, saying he concluded that the ``true motivation'' was Giuliani's belief that the float was a ``disgusting display of racism.''

    Kate O'Brien Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the city law office, said, ``We will definitely be appealing this.''

    Those on the Labor Day float threw watermelon and fried chicken to paradegoers, the city contended. They also made it appear as if one of the men in blackface was being dragged _ not long after the highly publicized case of a black man in Texas who was dragged to his death from a pickup truck, city officials said.

    The white employees - firefighters Jonathan Walters and Robert Steiner and police officer Joseph Locurto - sued the city to get their jobs back.

    They testified that they had no racist intent and that their actions were protected by the First Amendment because the float, titled ``Black to the Future: 2098,'' was a parody and should be protected by the First Amendment. They also argued they were poking fun at racist views in the predominantly white Queens neighborhood.

    Sprizzo ruled after hearing evidence earlier this year, including testimony from Giuliani, who said he urged the firing of the three employees because he feared the controversy might lead to race riots.

    At a hearing earlier this year, Sprizzo had cautioned a city lawyer that the mayor needed actual evidence the racism would cause disruption _ not just a belief.

    ``It's so easy to slip into a kind of political correctness that sooner or later will be the end of the First Amendment,'' the judge said at the time.

    Chris Dunn, an attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling ``sends a message that city employees can't be scapegoated to serve a mayor's political agenda and that's exactly what happened here.''

    Dunn, who represents Locurto, said he had argued from the start that Giuliani ordered the firing of Locurto, ``not out of a concern for any disruption but to atone for the mayor's own racial insensitivity.''

    Giuliani was listed as a defendant in the case. A call requesting comment was not immediately returned by his spokeswoman.

    Michael N. Block, a lawyer for Walters, said he and his client were ``very pleased.'' Robert Didio, a lawyer for Steiner, said he was ``absolutely thrilled.''

    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...2&sectionId=46

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    Administrator Neil's Avatar
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    FDNY Urged: No Rehire

    FDNY Urged: No Rehire

    Copyright 2003 Newsday, Inc.
    Newsday (New York)
    June 26, 2003 Thursday QUEENS EDITION

    The ex-firefighters who wore blackface in a parade and parodied the murder of a black man should not be allowed back into the ranks of the Bravest, says the head of a black firefighters organization.
    Paul Washington, president of the Vulcan Society, said yesterday that the fired white firefighters could not be relied on to serve black New Yorkers.

    "These guys clearly showed that they shouldn't be working in black communities when they think it's funny to parody the death of a black man at the hands of some racists," said Washington, a Fire Department captain, referring to James Byrd, who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas in 1998.



    On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John Sprizzo ruled that former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani violated the free speech rights of ex-Police Officer Joseph Locurto and former firefighters Jonathan Walters and Robert Steiner when he fired them for riding on a controversial float in Broad Channel in 1998. The decision opens the door to the possibility that the three could get their jobs back.
    Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he expected the city to appeal the ruling.

    Reacting to the possibility that Locurto could be restored to the police force, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said yesterday: "It's possible it may come back to the department for some sort of hearing, and I am the ultimate determiner, if you will . . . It's not appropriate for me to comment."

    Washington said that, for him, the Sprizzo decision was like adding insult to injury.

    He complained that the Fire Department has already accepted Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy, two of the four police officers involved in the 1999 killing of African immigrant Amadou Diallo. All four officers were acquitted of murder charges.

    The possibility that Walters or Steiner might become firefighters again is especially upsetting because the number of black firefighters is so low, Washington said. He said blacks make up less than 3 percent of the roughly 11,500 city firefighters.

    Staff writer Dan Janison contributed to this story.

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