Poll: Firefighter cannot wear Black Lives Matter pin on uniform; Humboldt’s last week of news

Episode sponsored by Eel River Brewing, Bongo Boy Studio, and Los Bagels.

In the latest episode of Humboldt Last Week (11:48): A local firefighter filed a grievance after his boss asked him to stop wearing a Black Lives Matter pin on his uniform. Humboldt Bay Fire’s uniform policy says you can wear lapel pins as long as they’re “fire service related and in good taste”. At a hearing the Humboldt Bay Fire Joint Powers Authority Board of Directors ultimately forbid him from wearing the pin saying it was politically divisive and not related to firefighting.

Matt McFarland was the firefighter fighting this decision. He said he was aiming for inclusiveness, free speech, and he wanted people of color to feel comfortable calling the fire department in Eureka. McFarland and his supporters said Black Lives Matter is a social movement, an extension of civil rights, and it should not be considered controversial.

Humboldt Bay Fire Chief Bill Gillespie’s official response to McFarland’s grievance partially said “a (public employee’s) uniform is not a venue for freedom of speech.”

Eureka City Councilmember Austin Allison is one of the Directors who made the decision to disallow the uniform pin who noted he’s personally a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement but their decision was strictly a matter of policy. In a post he echoed his belief that Black Lives Matter could be politically divisive.

“...This decision has nothing to do with the movement itself, but I am glad this issue was raised about racial injustice in our community,” he wrote. “We as directors of Humboldt Bay Fire have work to do in regards to reaffirm that Humboldt Bay Fire’s mission is to serve the public to our utmost ability despite any color, creed, or religion...”

It was reported by the Lost Coast Outpost that outgoing Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills was the one who pointed out the pin to the fire chief. McFarlands wife sent a photo to the blog of Mills wearing a Police Lives Matter bracelet. Mills said the difference was that the bracelet is not a part of his uniform and when asked he said he’d be okay with his officers wearing Black Lives Matter bracelets. At the hearing Mills stood firm saying allowing a Black Lives Matter pin on a public employee's uniform would open things up for others to wear polarizing pins supporting say the NRA or the pro-life movement.

Some in the community have said a public servant showing support for a part of our community is not offensive and allowing the pin would be a positive step for public relations -- that there’s nothing political about standing up against racism.

Others have said that while some Black Lives Matter affiliates are simply supporting civil rights, others support violent, damaging, or separatist views. They believe politics should be left off the uniforms of public servants.

What do you think? Should policy allow a public servant to wear a Black Lives Matter pin on their uniform?

Vote in the poll below. It will be active until June 16.

The story starts at 11:48.

Should policy allow a public servant to wear a Black Lives Matter pin on their uniform?


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