A black firefighter in Oakland, California, who has received honors for bravery and heroism, was subjected to racism from residents after he conducted routine inspections that are performed every year.
Kevin Moore was wearing his full uniform, equipped with a radio and clipboard, last month when he performed a vegetation-management inspection for the Oakland Hills neighborhood. The inspection is meant to help firefighters determine if any vegetation is a potential hazard to community members, identifying tree limbs or plant life that could be problematic if a fire breaks out.
The standard operating procedure is for firefighters to knock on residents’ doors or ring their doorbells. If no one answers, they are to conduct their inspections anyway, as the fire code establishes that such reviews can be done without the residents at their homes. The firefighter walks around the outside of the home, never entering the residence itself, and jots down notes about potential problems on a clipboard.
Moore is adamant about trying to be respectful of other peoples’ properties.
“I try to put myself in other people’s shoes, like if I see someone in my yard, I’d ask what they’re doing,” he said. “That’s why I always call out, 'Hello! Hello! Oakland Fire Department!' because I want to be heard. I just don’t want somebody to look out their window and see somebody in their backyard. I’m not trying to be incognito.”
Moore was conducting such an inspection last month when some of the residents in the neighborhood displayed disturbingly racist behavior. One resident even called 911, explaining they were concerned about him walking around the houses, even though he was in full uniform and such inspections are common.
A second individual recorded Moore on their home security camera and emailed it to police. In the video, Moore is shown following protocol — ringing the doorbell and yelling out who he is after no answer.
Last week, when inspections resumed, another individual actually approached Moore, confronting him about his business. Again, Moore was in full uniform and had made attempts at ringing the doorbell before beginning his inspection.
As he was finishing it up, the resident came up from behind Moore, recording their interaction on a cellphone camera. The individual asked Moore for his ID, which Moore gladly supplied.
“He takes a picture of my ID and says I need to get a different one,” Moore recalled. “I’ve had that ID for years. It’s kind of dark, and I’m more of a dark-skinned black guy, but you can still see me.”
Citizens have a right to be reasonably vigilant, of course, when they see behavior that’s suspicious. But this yearly inspection only seemed to set off these residents’ alarm bells when the person conducting them was black.
It’s clear their motivation behind their suspicions of Moore wasn’t because he was in backyards or walking around the neighborhood, but rather it was because he is black and doing so. The people who confronted Moore were still unwilling to give him their trust even though he was in full uniform, presenting his ID without question.
It’s evident that racist incidents like these are not all that uncommon — whether in law enforcement or in fire departments, black men and women who serve their communities still don’t get the respect their white counterparts are immediately (and often automatically) afforded.
Instead of letting incidents like this slide, we must speak up, letting our neighbors know that their behavior is both alarming and unwelcome. Moore didn't deserve to be treated the way he was, and hopefully residents can change their behavior for the better in the future.
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