NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A New Haven fire lieutenant has been suspended without pay for the entire month of September following racist remarks found posted through his Facebook page. The comments touched a very personal nerve with New Haven Mayor Toni Harp.
“I am a person that has been called that name in elementary and high school, and I’ll tell you it’s very demoralizing and hurtful,” Harp said Tuesday afternoon. “My people helped to build this country on slave labor. I am enraged by this comment, but we’ve got to go through a process.”
The post with the racial slur showed up under the name of Kevin Owens, who has been identified as a veteran lieutenant with the New Haven Fire Department. It reads, “In the U.S. we call them n******.” The comment was found under a story posted on the Facebook page for a right-wing British group named “English and Proud.” Owens was suspended immediately, a decision his union agrees with.
“If it’s true, it’s very hard to defend stupidity,” said Union president Capt. Jimmy Kottage. “Racism cannot be accepted in our city or anywhere.”
The city is in the process of adopting a policy and penalties on social media usage. The union said they aren’t moving fast enough and they’re calling for harsh and strict penalties for violators. The union also wants tougher penalties for Owens after the racist remark.
“They’ve been dragging their feet and I’ve been telling members that somebody’s going to get hurt with not having a policy,” Kottage said. “Time to put a social media policy together.”
The City of New Haven is what’s called a majority-minority city, with African-Americans making up 35 percent of the population, according to the Census Bureau. Mayor Harp and the union call the derogatory comments hurtful and destructive, but stress they are in no way a reflection of the overall department.
“It’s not always an easy fit, but we’ve shown we can do it. That’s what makes us great,” Mayor Harp said. “We’re going to get it right in New Haven.”
Lt. Owens will go in front of the Board of Fire Commissioners, who will determine his fate. Both Kottage and Mayor Harp said the department will need to undergo cultural sensitivity training.