A former New York police officer who was part of the department’s scuba-diving contingent has filed a discrimination suit against his former employer, saying that he was the subject of racial bias for the seven years he was part of that elite team.
Oscar Smith was the only African-American member of that scuba diving team and, in papers filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he insists that he was treated poorly and the object of racist jeers. He has filed a complaint against the New York Police Department.
“What Oscar Smith endured at the New York Police Department is totally unacceptable,” said Norman Siegel, an attorney for Smith, in an interview with BET.com.
“It raises serious and substantial questions about racial stereotyping and discrimination in certain places in the NYPD,” Siegel said. “The mayor and the police commissioner need to address these systemic issues.”
In his years in the police department’s scuba diving unit, Smith said he had often heard racist comments, particularly about the swimming prowess of African-Americans.
For example, he said that the head of the unit had initially prevented him from joining the unit “because, he said, ‘Black guys couldn’t swim,’” his complaint stated. He added that one supervisor “repeatedly asked me how it was that a ‘Black man’ could have passed the swim test.”
Smith worked as a lifeguard before joining the police department. In an interview with the New York Times, he said that it seemed like a dream job for someone who had skills as a swimmer and an experienced surfer.
“I’m not afraid to get wet,” Smith said, in the interview. He said he regularly joked with personnel in the department’s aviation unit. “I’d tell them to drop me off in a helicopter and come back three days later and I’ll be here petting a shark.”
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(Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)