Originally published 7.28.09
The chant of “Zero Tolerance” by hundreds of protesters resonated throughout the streets of downtown Houston as Deric Muhammad and Otis Jordan of the Houston Black Firefighters Association (HBFFA) led a march and rally to demand stronger action by Houston Mayor Bill White in addressing racism and all other forms of discrimination in the Houston Fire Department.
Organizers of the rally are also calling on the firing of White Captain Keith Smith, who had a “hangman’s noose” discovered in his locker earlier this year by a Black firefighter.
The march started with a press conference at the Old Hanging Tree, located three blocks from City Hall. Engraved on the plaque in front of the tree in part read “Many stories attached to the 400-year old history of this live oak.”
“This is a serious issue”, said Otis Jordan, who is President of the HBFFA. “The Houston Fire Department is on auto-pilot and out of control. It is a shame after so many years, it is still the same.”
Jordan also mentioned that fellow firefighters from the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, Austin, Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana were in attendance to support them.
“We stand here today on the principle of justice”, said Deric Muhammad. “We will not stop. We demand a strong zero tolerance policy put into place before Mayor Bill White leaves office.”
Mayor White is in his last term and is preparing to run for U.S. Senate. He and HFD lead officials have been under constant fire by community leaders and Black firefighters for what they have called a “poor response” to the recent string of racist and sexist incidents in the department.
Kofi Taharka, Ntl Chairmain of the National Black United Front, said “We are here to stand in solidarity because everyone should have a workplace without fearing terrorist threats or racist White supremacy.”
The march then shifted to the steps of City Hall as the blazing heat index increased along with the number of people in attendance. Speakers included Council woman Jolanda Jones, Deloyd Parker (SHAPE Center), members of LULAC, fellow Black firefighters, Ebony Muhammad (Houston Association of Black Psychologist), Pastor D.Z. Cofield (NAACP), and an attorney for female firefighter Paula Keyes, who was one of the victims of racial graffiti at her fire station.
(Look for more detailed on the grounds coverage of this rally in an upcoming Edition of The Final Call Newspaper)