Detroit fire captain on leave over social media posts

The Detroit News

A Detroit fire captain has been disciplined for allegedly posting messages deemed discriminatory on social media, city officials said Tuesday.

After the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Michigan chapter on Tuesday released details of the Facebook posts the group found through a probe, Fire Department leaders announced they had launched an investigation and placed the captain on unpaid administrative leave.

“The Detroit Fire Department prides itself on the delivery of service regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or religious affiliation,” Executive Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said in a statement Tuesday. “The current matters brought to light through the Council on American-Islamic Relations are profoundly disturbing. … The city of Detroit has a zero tolerance policy against any and all discrimination. Employees of the Detroit Fire Department are expected to adhere to that policy without fail.”

City and fire officials did not release other details about their probe or name the captain.

Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR-MI, welcomed the department’s decision to discipline the supervisor. “We’re glad they’re taking this very seriously,” he said Tuesday.

Officials with his group recently received a tip about the posts after filing a formal complaint this month with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a Muslim paramedic in the Detroit Fire Department’s EMS division who claimed the captain mistreated him.

Among the more than 50 posts CAIR reviewed in the last week: a photo allegedly taken near the firehouse where the supervisor worked showing African-Americans gathered at a parking lot tent where cell phones were offered to residents on food stamps or Medicaid. A message underneath read: “In case you were wondering what the hell is wrong with America, I took this pic an hour ago at the corner of Greenfield and Grand River in Deeeeetroit.”

Other posts or memes the captain allegedly shared on Facebook appeared to depict Orthodox Jews with references to anti-Semitic stereotypes; suggested Hispanic immigrants would do “anything for papers”; and recommended that wet electronic devices be left in rice to “attract Asians to fix your electronics,” CAIR-MI reported Tuesday.

Another the group found that was posted in 2016 intended for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, featured an image of a pig with a message that read: “I love guns and bacon” — an apparent reference to Islamic dietary restrictions.

CAIR officials said they only learned the full scope of the messages in recent days and went public because they didn’t want the issue to go unaddressed “and see people act in a discriminatory and racist manner against anybody,” staff attorney Amy Doukoure said.

In 2015, CAIR said, the captain also allegedly shared a photo with a camel and a caption seeming to suggest that people of Middle Eastern descent are “all terrorists.”

Among the pictures the captain “posted of himself in uniform are some of the most deeply insensitive and offensive images that CAIR-MI has ever seen from a public service worker,” the advocacy group said in a statement Tuesday. “Some of the most offensive images were posted while (the captain) was on duty at the firehouse.”

The paramedic who sought the federal complaint, which is pending, believed the captain’s views influenced how he was treated on the job, Doukoure said. He claimed he experienced “selective disciplinary action” from the captain within weeks of the supervisor’s promotion and feared retaliation if his concerns were reported in the department.

“What we would like to see happen ultimately is for the Detroit Fire Department and the EMS unit to institute some sort of education and training program to combat these types of issues going forward, especially with supervisors,” Doukoure said.