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Date: Sat, 31 Jan 1998 09:47:38 -0500
Sender: The African Global Experience <AGE-L@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU>
From: Marpessa Kupendua <nattyreb@IX.NETCOM.COM>
Subject: !*Black firefighters targets of racist threats

>Date: Thu, 29 Jan 1998 23:54:39 -0600
>From: Michael Novick <mnovick@laedu.lalc.k12.ca.us>
>Subject: Black firefighters targets of racist threats

Feds probe threats against black firefighters. 'We are not going to be divided,' union says of hate mail

By Judy DeHaven and David G. Grant, The Detroit News,
29 January 1998

DETROIT--Federal authorities are taking seriously anonymous hate letters that threaten the lives of black Detroit firefighters and call for whites to reclaim the fire department "by any means necessary."

The letters, signed by a group calling itself the "White Fire Fighters Association," were sent to Mayor Dennis Archer, Detroit Fire Chief Raymond George and the Phoenix, an organization of African-American firefighters.

The letters, which include racial slurs and death threats, were turned over to the FBI in November, Police Chief Isaiah McKinnon said.

"This is definitely being investigated," McKinnon said Wednesday.

FBI spokeswoman Dawn Moritz would not comment, except to say her agency is aware of the letters.

The letters allude to the legacy of white "fathers and grandfathers (who) built this fire department" and accuse department heads of coddling blacks and punishing whites.

"It amazes us that you do not punish those black bNNN so-called firefighters as you do us," stated a letter sent to the fire chief. "We will regain control of what is rightfully ours. Take it all back even if it means that we have to eliminate you in the process."

City attorney Terri Renshaw said the letters are "not something we took lightly. We asked the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office to look into it, and we all agreed the jurisdiction was best left with them."

Another letter, sent to Archer and the Phoenix, stated that a predominantly white engine house on East Grand Boulevard "is spotless inside and out," and an Engine House on Greenfield staffed by African Americans is described as looking like a "ghetto."

The letter sent to Archer outlined four demands:

  • That the next fire chief be white.
  • An end to "racial balance."
  • For every member of the White Fire Fighters Association harassed over residency, the group threatened to take action against African Americans who live outside the city.
  • The group threatened "contemptuous young blacks who dishonor our white officers...by threats or violence or sully their record."
  • "The next nNN- that places his hand on one of ours will die," the letter reads. "We place you on notice as to our intentions and they will be realized by any means necessary."

City and fire officials were quick to downplay division in the 1,800-member fire department, even though 15 white officers recently filed a reverse discrimination lawsuit against the department for promoting a black firefighter to chief.

Phoenix President Fred Wheeler said the department does not have any more racial problems than any other group.

"I am not even insinuating those letters have anything to do with that (lawsuit)," Wheeler said. "I gave them no credence or credibility. There are black disgruntled workers, just as there are white disgruntled workers. There's always an undercurrent of racism, just like there is in American society."

Mark Knowles, president of the Detroit Firefighters Association, said the letters will not divide the firefighters.

"We decided as a membership, that whoever this sicko is--if they're a fireman or not a fireman, if they're an ex-employee or management--we are not going to be divided," Knowles said.

James Edwards, 28, an African American firefighter at a ladder station on Joy Road at Southfield, said you can't ignore the threats, but they aren't a serious concern for him.

"When the bells rings, people do what they need to do to get the job done," Edwards said. "When you go in, you don't care what color the person is, you just want the best."

Lt. Robert Dombrowski, who is white, said race relations are better now than in any of his 25 years with the department.

"Things here are pretty good. We live together and we eat together," he said.

Dombrowski does not think a firefighter wrote the letter.

"The letter looked silly and ridiculous like it was written by someone out of Alabama in the 1950s," Dombrowski said. "Whoever is doing it is doing it to try and cause trouble and ruin our morale."

Detroit News Staff Writers Kristin Storey and Lama Bakri contributed to this report. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.