NYPD’s Lone Black Scuba Diver Files EEOC Complaint Over Racial Taunts on the Job

Mar 04, 2014

In the seven years Oscar Smith served on the New York Police Department’s scuba-diving unit, he was the only black member of the team. And according to allegations detailed in an official complaint he filed with the Police Department of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he was unwelcome among the unit’s ranks. 

Smith told the New York Times he faced regular racial and homophobic taunts:

When his application to join the unit in 2003 was first denied, Mr. Smith said, he heard that the captain of the unit had blocked the transfer "because, he said, ‘black guys couldn’t swim,’ " according to his complaint. That stereotype would rear up even after he joined the unit, he said. A supervisor "repeatedly asked me how it was that a ‘black man’ could have passed the swim test," Mr. Smith wrote in the complaint.

In his complaint, he said that shortly after joining the diving unit he was "subjected to racial hostility, derogatory comments and unfavorable treatment." He was soon given a nickname, Tautog. When he asked the other divers what it meant, he was told it was another name for the blackfish. Some colleagues dismissively told him that he was "descended from slaves."

At first, he said, his instinct was to "brush it off," but the comments got worse and even turned menacing.

"You could go on a dive op and not wake up — anything could happen," he said his co-workers told him. "I’d say, ‘That’s nice to know.’ " But as such comments increased over time, he said, "It didn’t seem like it was in jest."

The NYPD’s spokesperson declined to comment on the complaint. Read the rest of the article at the New York Times.