JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Brotherhood of Firefighters and other groups are pushing for more black hires at the Jacksonville Fire Department. This move follows a decades-long fight about a court-approved agreement requiring the city to hire an equal amount of black and white firefighters dating back to 1982.
The fire department hired approximately 250 black firefighters at the start of the agreement, known as the consent decree, and in 1992, stopped filing at the federal court when the quota was filled.
“We just went to trial on that,” James Edwards, captain of the Jacksonville Brotherhood of Firefighters, told the Florida Record. “Personally, I think they are breaking the law; blacks represent about 29 percent of the community and the firefighters should reflect that. They should be reaching out to more African Americans.”
A federal appeals court of the 11th District ruled that the city of Jacksonville should not be held in contempt for the way it handled the 1982 consent decree, agreeing with the first judge’s decision when plaintiffs in the case went to court in 2007.
"The city did not lie or conceal any information --- it was true that the city had stopped complying with the decree because it believed that it had fulfilled its duties under the decree," the appeals court ruled.
Edwards said the court told plaintiffs they were past the statute of limitations to hold the city accountable for the 1982 consent decree.
“The city was supposed to go back to the federal court and say they reached the level of African Americans hired,” Edwards said. “There was never an end date.”
The Brotherhood of Firefighters, NAACP and the city of Jacksonville signed a new agreement in May to show a representation of the racial makeup of the city reflected in firefighter hires, but there have been only two black firefighters hired out of the October pool of 30 potential hires.
“They are not following through on the policy that the groups signed on,” Edwards said. “That’s what they did with the statute of limitations. We don’t know why they are not taking it, so we’re following up on it with an attorney.”
The Jacksonville Fire Department was unable to comment on claims about the 1982 consent decree.
“It is not within the purview of the JFRD Administration to opine on issues of jurisprudence; instead, our collective agenda is to adhere to the applicable laws and statutes established by the respective federal and state judicial branches of our government,” said JFRD public information officer Tom Francis in a statement.
Plaintiffs in the case argue that there was a “dramatic” decrease in black hires for the Jacksonville Fire Department and that most of the African-American firefighters hired at the time of the agreement are either retired or getting ready for retirement.
Edwards, who has already retired, continues to fight for a better representation of black firefighters in the city of Jacksonville, stating that it is not uncommon to see the city misrepresent black people in employment.
“Right now the Department of Justice is suing for promotions of African Americans in a civil rights violation and they filed that suit in 2012,” Edwards said.