A group of Black firefighters in North Carolina want the chief of Winston-Salem’s department to be fired over accusations of racism within his force.
According to the group, numerous instances of racism have happened over the past few years, including the discussion between two white captains that mentioned plans of running over demonstrators protesting the police killing of George Floyd. It is also alleged that another firefighter made a noose during a rope and knots class in November 2017.
Last month, the group, who calls themselves Omnibus, filed an official complaint to City Hall in October, which seeks the firing of Chief William “Trey” Mayo, who is white. They claim he isn’t taking their allegations of racism seriously.
“It's a festering problem that has become even more disease-ridden and even more detrimental to the life of the individuals who work here because of the current chief,” said Thomas Penn, a 28-year veteran firefighter and member of the party who filed the grievance, according to the Associated Press.
Tamika Ingram, who joined the Winston-Salem fire department back in 2006, said she suffered years of abuse and racism, which made her quit in 2010.
“You develop alligator skin so that you can get on through the process,” she said of the initial training. “And then, hopefully, once you get in, you'll be able to be an advocate or be able to be heard if anything goes on because a lot went on with me.”
Ingram says that upon joining the force, other firefighters stole her food and took her uniforms out of her personal space. She also alleges they threw her new cellphone on the roof of the station house, placed nails under the wheels of her pickup truck, and even poured tobacco juice in her boots.
“It caused me pain, sleepless nights, suffering, anxiety,” said Ingram, who also said the cellphone incident was particularly significant given that without it, her three children had no way to reach her.
“My daughter was a latchkey kid at the age of nine,” she said. “My kids had no other way to get in touch. They didn't know how. Something went wrong with my kids, and I couldn't get to them and they couldn't get to me. That right there just set it off.”
Today, Ingram works in medical services in Charlotte.
Winston-Salem city manager Lee Garrity, according to the AP, said the city has launched a so-called “climate assessment” through a Charlotte-based firm, which will evaluate the fire department regarding diversity, race, gender, and sexual orientation. A full report is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“We'd had very few grievances or complaints in the last couple of years,” Garrity said, according to the AP. “But I am sure there are opportunities for improvement.”
Photo: Busà Photography