Local

Mayor White denies racist epidemic in HFD

Friday, July 10, 2009

There are new developments on the allegations of racist actions within the Houston Fire Department. Houston Mayor Bill White faced tough questions about the investigation and previous complaints.

Firefighters press conference raw video: Part 1 | Part 2
Mayor White press conference raw video: Part 1

On Tuesday, hateful graffiti aimed at two female firefighters was found on the walls of one fire station. Wednesday someone hacked into the fire department's tactical radio system, broadcasting at least one racial slur. With firefighters at his back, Mayor White reacted to the news.

In what has become a public relations nightmare for the city of Houston, Mayor White stood front and center to answer tough questions about the investigation into Tuesday's racially charged incident at fire station 54, many of which he did not have the answer to.

"I do not know who has been interviewed in the course of the investigation," Mayor White admitted. "The general nature of these investigations is very thorough."

The mayor's frustration with an investigative system that keeps him and the fire chief from the specifics of a case was clear. He claims he has no way of knowing who knew what and when. While the mayor admits the policies and procedures as they are may be broken, we pressed him about his reluctance to get federal authorities involved.

We asked, "Why not get the department of justice involved since the system you have in place clearly isn't working. Are you afraid of what they might uncover?"

"No," Mayor White responded. "I just think it would be a lot more effective if we had an organization take ownership of that."

Houston city council member Jolanda Jones, who is requesting the Department of Justice take on an active role in the investigation, remains disheartened.

Jones said, "I can't even think of an adjective to describe what they've gone through. I think we need an outside agency. I don't think we need to spend any money. There are agencies out there that do that."

Meantime, Jane Draycott and Paula Keys, the two firefighters who spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday night, hope to one day to return to work in an environment where they say they feel safe.

"They are not going to succeed in running me out of there," Draycott said. "I want this to stop. I want whoever did this to be punished. I want everybody to know this garbage needs to stop."

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