(Kansas City Fire Department/City of Kansas City Official Website)
Stephen Seals, a Black firefighter, has had enough of the violent, anti-Black racism within the Kansas City Fire Department (KCFD). He’s taken the fight to the courts, suing the department for its horrific retaliation after he reported racial discrimination to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ is now investigating the blatant white supremacy that has gone unquestioned for decades within the department.
Seals, along with other brave Black firefighters, has laid bare the department’s toxic and violent culture of racial discrimination and hostility. Women within the department have also raised the alarm, revealing shocking instances of sexual discrimination and harassment.
Seals first put his career on the line back in 2017, speaking up for a Black cadet who was subjected to racial slurs by a white classmate.
This year, Seals took his fight to the next level, consulting with the DOJ about the department’s entrenched racism. He was blatantly cheated out of promotions, overshadowed by his white colleagues due to his race, age, and his refusal to stay silent about the discrimination he faced.
The statistics are damning: 30% of Kansas City’s population is Black, but only 14% of its fire department mirrors this demographic. Even more appalling, a mere three out of the 48 highest-ranking firefighters are Black.
Other Black firefighters have also been forced to endure this oppressive environment. Many have shared their harrowing experiences with DOJ investigators, revealing a recruitment and promotion system steeped in white supremacy. White colleagues act with impunity, blatantly disrespecting and endangering their Black counterparts.
The History of White Supremacy & Discrimination in KCFD
The racism within KCFD has deep historical roots. While some progress has been made, the culture remains steeped in racism and exclusion. Efforts by the few Black firefighters to promote diversity have been ignored or undermined. The department remains dominated by white males.
All of this was documented in a 136-page “Culture Report” that included horrific interviews and testimonies of KCFD employees who had been grabbed in sexually inappropriate ways.
In 2018, a white fire cadet “joked” that his favorite knot was a noose and placed it around the neck of a Black classmate. This is just one of myriad examples that Black firefighters have bravely brought to light despite intimidation and retaliation. The message sent is that racism by white cadets will be tolerated, while Black colleagues who speak up are ignored or pushed out.
Enough is enough. While the DOJ’s investigation continues, Black firefighters have already suffered intolerable, life-threatening conditions. They’ve been marginalized, rejected, and passed over for promotions. In the last decade, not one Black firefighter has been promoted to captain.
The urgency for justice is palpable. The careers and lives of Black firefighters are at stake, and the time for dismantling the department’s white supremacist structures is long overdue.
This is a developing story.