[Further information with additional links at the following article:
News4Jax.com, September 12, 2006 ]
Jacksonville, Fla.—Two groups, including black firefighters, have been fanning the flames surrounding issues at the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, with a controversial advertisement that began airing Wednesday.
The groups said their goal was to push Mayor John Peyton into action by turning up the heat on his entire political party.
The black firefighters and their allies have demanded the mayor carry out the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission, and replace top fire officials—including the fire chief.
The controversial commercial that depicts Peyton, a noose and a rebel flag is airing on cable television and blames Republicans for the problems in the fire department, stating: “Mayor Peyton, you and the Republican party are responsible for the discrimination, racism and the sexism continuing if you do not make a positive change. We are Americans too.”
The groups paying for the ad to run, the Jacksonville Brotherhood of Firefighters and the Jacksonville Leadership Coalitions, said Republicans are indeed to blame for the problems.
“They are the ones that put people in positions that are causing the problems,” said Wanda Butler of the Jacksonville Brotherhood of Firefighters.
Republican and City Council member Glorious Johnson said she was shocked after viewing the ad.
The groups behind the ad said there would be more in the future, but that their intention is for change in the fire department, and nothing else.
In an interview on Tuesday, Peyton said it was irresponsible to run the ad.
[Excerpt from Paved With Good Intentions: The Failure Of Race Relations In Contemporary America, by Jared Taylor]
Larry Gatt grew up in San Francisco and always wanted to be a fireman. The Fire Department had always hired firemen in what it thought to be the fairest possible way. Every four to six years, it gave a test, and hired the people with the best scores.
Firemen must have brains as well as brawn. They must understand chemical fires, gas fires, and toxic discharges, and use the best technique to stop the blaze. They must give first aid to people who are burned, electrocuted, drowned, shot, or mangled on the highway. They must also be strong enough to hack their way through doors, sprint up stairways, and carry unconscious people down ladders. San Francisco therefore had two tests, one written and the other physical, with a weighting of 60:40 in favor of brains over brawn. The department gave the written test first.
Mr. Gatt was eligible to take the test in 1982, a year when the department was under court order to hire minorities. No discrimination had been proven, but the department did not have enough minorities. Seven thousand people signed up for the written test, and thirty-five hundred actually took it. The department had made a strong effort to advertise the test to minorities. It managed to sign up a good number of blacks, but only a reported 20 percent of them showed up for the test. The department knew it had a problem as soon as the tests were graded: Not enough blacks had passed. The department dropped the passing score from 70 to 60, crossed its fingers, and gave the physical test. Theoretically, if most of the whites who had passed the written test failed the physical test, while most of the blacks passed, the department might have had enough minorities to satisfy the court.
It did not work out that way. Once the scores were combined, if the department had worked its way down the list to get the two hundred people it needed, it would have ended up with far too many whites. Of the fifteen hundred people who passed both tests, Mr. Gatt was number forty-three. He would have gotten a job. The department showed the results to the court. It pointed out that it was not the department’s fault if blacks did not show up for the test, or failed it if they took it. The court did not care. It wanted more blacks on the force.
The department swallowed hard and threw out the results of the written test. It ended the practice of hiring firemen for both brains and brawn, and decided to hire on brawn alone. It made a ranking of 190 men based only on the physical test. Mr. Gatt was still on that list, but he had dropped from forty-third to ninety-fifth. He still had a chance.
The department finally hired only thirty-nine men, and two thirds of these were minorities. Even on the list of brawn alone, it was only the whites who were hired strictly according to rank order. The department picked blacks who ranked lower than whites in order to get enough minorities. The department stopped far short of hiring the number of men it needed because the process had become so politicized and unsuitable.
Mr. Gatt did not get a job. He has since taken the test again. He has continued to be passed over so the department could hire minorities. He has never achieved his childhood ambition, to work for the San Francisco Fire Department. Mr. Gatt, like many whites who have been pushed aside in the name of affirmative action, is bitter. “I don’t care who gets the job,” he says, “so long as he’s chosen fairly. They made a mockery of the test—they just hired the people they wanted.”
Mr. Gatt points out that this is not the only time that white firemen face discrimination. “It doesn’t end at the front door,” he says. “It follows you for your whole career, with promotions and everything.” In fact, the fire department found that once they were hired, minorities did not do as well as whites on the examinations for promotion to lieutenant. Once again, under court order, it devised a special grading system so that minorities could pass, and promoted them over the heads of whites who had scored higher. The department went even farther. It decided that the original test, which white firemen passed in greater number than blacks, must have been discriminatory. Blacks who had taken the old test therefore got promotions and tens of thousands of dollars in back pay.
It is not hard to imagine what this does to the morale of a fire department. Can veterans be happy with new recruits who are hired, not because they are qualified, but because they are black? Can whites help feeling cheated when they see less-qualified blacks promoted over them? Whites who might make excellent fire fighters will think twice about a job with a biased employer. San Francisco’s fire department will not be as good as it could be. And finally, biased hiring patterns devalue the accomplishments of blacks who could have made it on ability alone.
What goes on in San Francisco is typical of fire and police departments across the country. Freddie Hernandez, a Hispanic lieutenant in the Miami fire department, explains how things work: “We hire 60 percent Hispanics here, regardless of qualifications. . . . They just have people take a test, and they pick minorities [even] from the bottom of the list.”
In Detroit, a federal court upheld a promotion scheme that established two lists for police officers, one black and one white. Half of all promotions must be black, with the best candidates chosen in equal numbers from the two lists. Blacks compete for promotions only against other blacks.
Detroit made no pretense of making blacks compete against whites for promotions. Other fire and police departments have tried to stick to the old way of promoting officers strictly according to test results, but are under court order to promote a certain number of blacks. Usually it is impossible to do both. When promotion examinations are used, blacks do not pass in sufficient numbers to satisfy affirmative action requirements.
The universal explanation for this is that the promotion tests are racially or culturally biased. Presumably, if a test suffers from cultural bias, someone familiar with the cultures involved could go through it in advance and eliminate bias. This has been attempted many times, but blacks still do not pass these tests at anything like the same rate as whites. Perhaps people are trying to remove something that is not there. In 1982, the National Academy of Sciences did a thorough investigation of cultural bias on standardized tests and strongly discounted the notion that there even is such a thing. Nevertheless, this study has been widely ignored, and cultural bias stands alone as the explanation for why blacks and Hispanics do less well on tests than whites and Asians.
When it comes to a policing exam given to professional policemen, it is difficult to imagine what form cultural bias could take. This has not stopped cities from taking great pains to correct it. San Francisco spent nearly $1 million over a period of nearly five years trying to devise a test that minorities could pass in equal numbers to whites. The city never got one. In 1991 a judge ordered that twenty-two nonwhites be promoted over the heads of whites who had gotten better scores on the new, presumably biasfree test.
For ten years, New York City police battled lawsuits claiming that biased tests prevented minorities from getting deserved promotions to sergeant. Finally, in 1989, the department hit upon the idea of inviting black and Hispanic officers to help design the test, thus eliminating bias. Even so, less than 2 percent of the blacks who took it passed; 95 percent of all promotions to sergeant were non-Hispanic whites. The department braced itself for another round of lawsuits.
Something else the New York City police have tried is to replace the pencil-and-paper test for sergeant with a video-based test. The theory was that any written exam was biased against blacks. This proved no better than the traditional exam at giving equal pass rates. When the results were announced, both black and Puerto Rican spokesmen denounced the test as biased.
In 1992, the city’s fire department took a different approach. It decided that minorities do less well than whites on multiple-choice tests because of “test anxiety.” The city paid a consultant to devise a test in which candidates got three choices rather than just one to pick the right answer. Getting the right answer as the first choice was to be worth a full point, with a half point and a quarter point awarded to anyone who got the right answer as second or third choice, respectively. Besides reducing “test anxiety,” another effect of this would be to narrow the gap in test scores between people who know the right answer and people who do not. More minorities might thereby get a passing grade.
One way to squeeze bias out of a test is to make it so easy that anyone can pass it. New York’s Sanitation Department indulged in an enormous waste of time when it gave a test on which 23,078 applicants out of 24,000 got perfect scores. Presumably, the department could then claim to have hired only those minorities who got the highest possible score.
Since it has proven impossible to design meaningful tests that do not give “biased” results, the Houston Fire Department worked out a court-approved method to eliminate bias after a test was taken. In 1991 it gave a one-hundred-question test for promotions, with a passing grade of 70. Whites got better scores than blacks. The court agreed that the department could then study the results and throw out questions that minorities were more likely than whites to get wrong. The reasoning was that if they got them wrong, they must have been biased, even if no one could have known that in advance.
The department farmed the test scores out to a private consulting firm, which duly eliminated twenty-eight questions. This meant that thirty-two people who had originally passed now had failing grades. They were twenty-four whites, four blacks, three Hispanics, and one Asian. After the test was rescored, thirteen people who had originally failed were found to have passed: five blacks, four Hispanics, and four whites. Since eight minorities had been knocked off the pass list but nine had been added to it, the exercise resulted in a net gain of one. Naturally, the people who had been knocked off the pass list, including the minorities, were hopping mad, but the Houston fire chief got one more minority promotion out of the exercise.
This was plain hard luck for the blacks who got the right answers on questions that were supposed to be “biased” against them, and it was a piece of good luck for the whites who got the wrong answers on questions that were supposed to be “biased” in their favor. This sort of foolishness makes a joke out of what is supposed to be an objective procedure, but some people would do double backflips if that were what it took to get the right number of black promotions.
The entire debate about cultural bias must seem faintly surreal to Darryl Hayden of Indianapolis. In 1985, out of 1,250 applicants for jobs as fire fighters, he got the highest test score. Cultural bias appears to have been no obstacle to him, despite the fact that he is black.