NEW YORK — New York City officials have suspended nine firefighters without pay in connection with a string of racist messages and memes they shared on their phones, including ones that mocked the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, according to a published report.
A spokesperson called the suspensions the most severe punishments ever handed down in the history of the Fire Department of the City of New York, The New York Times reported in Friday's editions.
After looking into complaints by several Black firefighters, the department suspended the nine firefighters without pay for periods ranging from a few days to six months, Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
One of the firefighters is expected to leave the agency after his suspension ends, Nigro said. In addition, three fire department officers were reprimanded.In the messages and memes last April, white firefighters mocked Floyd's dying moments with Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin's knee on his neck, the Times reported.
It said they also exchanged other racist messages, including one about the use of fire hoses on protesters.
Black firefighters told the Times they believed the suspensions fell far short of addressing what they consider deep-rooted problems in the department, where leaders have acknowledged that racism, sexism and harassment have been tolerated.
Nigro said the department has embraced diversity initiatives and welcomed historically diverse classes into the academy in recent years.
He said the department is working to become more inclusive, but he also admitted fault.
"We’ve welcomed the folks in and now we have to make them feel welcome,” Nigro told the newspaper. “We have to make them feel as if they belong. And in some cases, we failed.”
The FDNY is comprised of mostly white staff, according to data obtained by the Times. Of roughly 11,000 firefighters, approximately 75 percent are white.