Fire board rules CA firefighter can’t wear ‘Black Lives Matter’ pin on uniform
A California firefighter recently lost a union grievance against the Humboldt Bay Fire Department over a Black Lives Matter pin he was forced to remove from his uniform in March.
The Humboldt Bay Fire Joint Powers Authority Board of Directors sided with Fire Chief Bill Gillespie Wednesday after a five-hour hearing over a Black Lives Matter lapel pin he ordered engineer Matt McFarland to remove from his uniform in March, the Lost Coast Outpost reports.
The hearing featured heated public commentary, numerous witnesses, and arguments from union attorney Jeff Edwards and Humboldt Bay Fire attorney Kendall Swanson about whether or not the pin violates the department’s uniform policy.
The policy only allows lapel pins that are “fire service related and in good taste” and Gillespie argued Black Lives Matter is a political movement not related to firefighting.
“We work to stay neutral,” Gillespie said, according to KRCTV. “We don’t take a side or a stance on any kind of a movement because while it may support some members of the community, it may offend or put off other members of the community.”
McFarland and his supporters, meanwhile, alleged Black Lives Matter is a social movement built around inclusion, and not at all political.
“It’s on the news every night,” McFarland said at the hearing. “There are systematic problems for people of color who are hesitant to approach anybody with a badge, anybody in a uniform.”
Fellow firefighters and community activists also weighed in.
“This is sickening that one man wants to take a stand in this community and everybody goes against him,” resident Kim Trevillion said. “I’m standing firm. I will stand with him in solidarity, and this community needs to come together.”
Firefighter Jason Campillo said he thinks Gillespie made the right call because of the charged politics behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
“While I support Matt as my union brother, I always support my brothers whether it’s the streets, in a fire, whatever. I do not support him on this,” Campillo said. “I will not I can not stand for it. I’m a strict constitutionalist politically, but this is no place to espouse your political views.”
Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills, who initially reported McFarland’s Black Lives Matter pin to Gillespie, also pointed out that the Black Lives Matter movement is supported financially through its political ties to liberal groups and explained why he believes the pin is inappropriate.
“If one employee is allowed to do something like this,” Mills said, “then you get all kinds of employees wanting everything that they think is important … to be worn on their uniform.”
KRCTV reports that after hours of testimony the board adjourned the meeting to discuss the case, and had up to 30 days to make a determination.
About an hour later, the board members upheld Gillespie’s decision, a ruling the board contends is “based on policy and not its agreement or disagreement with the Black Lives Matter movement.”