Can you swim?
Via Gothamist reports:
The only black member of the NYPD’s diving unit claims that he was the target of racial taunts and discrimination while he was applying to become an NYPD diver, as well as when he was finally assigned to the unit.
Oscar Smith told The New York Times that a captain of the unit who originally denied Smith’s application had allegedly did so because he believed that “‘black guys couldn’t swim.” Smith’s complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission details multiple instances where, while on the diving unit, Smith believed he was the target of racial bias.
“The joke with them was, ‘What black guy can swim? How did this guy pass the test,” Smith told Marla Diamond of WCBS 880.
Smith, 48, was the first black diver in the unit’s history and retired in May 2013 after the alleged taunts and prejudice became too much. “I just couldn’t deal with it anymore, and it was time for me to leave,” Smith told the Times of his departure from the department. One of his attorneys, Norman Siegel, adds, “Oscar Smith’s situation raises serious questions about racial stereotyping in the N.Y.P.D.”
Smith, who owns a gym in Chelsea, was also allegedly called “gay” by members of his unit. “I’m a surfer. I’ve got painted toenails, toe rings, stuff like that,” Smith said, referring to his non-traditional (at least for a cop) appearance. He says he isn’t gay, but was still offended by the remarks.
For seven years, Smith scoured the waterways of New York City, saving people from accidents or looking for murder weapons on the riverbed. But the entire time he felt like he was diving with people who didn’t support him. “You could go on a dive op and not wake up — anything could happen,” Smith says other divers told him before dives. By the end of his time on the scuba team, he didn’t think they were joking.
The NYPD has thus far declined to comment on the allegations, but a spokesperson confirmed the unit currently has no blacks among its 29 divers.