US Rep. Jonathan Jackson faces criticism for comments made about Chicago Fire Department

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Saturday, April 13, 2024
US Rep. Jonathan Jackson under fire for comments made about CFD
Congressman Jonathan Jackson was recorded alleging some white firefighters in the past would let homes in predominantly African-American neighborhoods burn.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Congressman Jonathan Jackson was recorded at a recent private event alleging some white firefighters in the past would let homes in predominantly African-American neighborhoods burn.

The comments have stoked long simmering concerns about racism, and question strides made to bring more equity to the Chicago Fire Department.

The video posted on social media brings up old and new concerns about racism in the Chicago Fire Department. The post included comments by Congressman Jonathan Jackson during a private event.

A person who attended the event and a spokesperson for Jackson told ABC7 the story he recounted was allegedly about actions of white firefighters decades ago, and that the post was taken out of context with the purpose of the talk to advocate for more African-American firefighters.

Congressman Jackson issued a statement, saying, "I have great respect and admiration for our First Responders - our Chicago Firefighters. I want to acknowledge your sacrifice and thank you for the years of friendship and service. I sincerely did not mean to offend. My intent was to shed light on the need for diversity, training, and equipment upgrades within the Chicago Fire Department."

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Some firefighters told ABC7 they are offended and want an apology. They reject any claim that race plays a role when firefighters are on a call.

Chicago firefighter Joe Senorski is currently on medical leave and is the former political director for Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2.

"When that bell rings, we go to work. If there are divisions problems with it the firehouse, we put that aside. We go to work to serve the people of Chicago," Senorski said. "I don't know how anyone could call that into question."

A CFD statement reads in part, "we want to assure the public that these allegations are inaccurate and do not reflect the values or actions of our dedicated members."

CFD Captain Malick Bilal is the president of the African American Firefighters and Paramedics League. He and his organization advocate for more diversity and he understands the call for the department to look more like citizens it serves.

"At times, are people treated differently, I'm quite sure at times they are, but in general from what I've seen, it's been an heroic effort from this department to get there as soon as possible and save as many people and citizens of Chicago," Bilal said.

The discussions come after decades of litigation against the city's Human Resources Department, which lead a group of African-American firefighters coming on the job who had been discriminated against in the 90s.

SEE ALSO | Chicago news: OSHA tells CFD to improve safety after firefighter deaths

Despite changes with the city and the department's first female African American commissioner, Nance Holt, CFD reports the number of African Americans has not increased, and the number new African American recruits has been down in recent years.

Congressman Jackson declined an interview Friday. He said he plans to meet with firefighters when he returns from Washington D.C.

In the meantime, Alderman Nick Sposato is asking the city's Inspector General to look into allegations of discrimination at CFD.