A firefighter in Eureka, Calif., is expected to make his case today, June 7, as to why he should be allowed to wear a Black Lives Matter pin on his uniform shirt.
Matt McFarland, who is white, filed a grievance in April with the Humboldt Bay Fire’s governing body, the Joint Power Authority, after he was ordered in March by Fire Chief Bill Gillespie to remove the pin. He had reportedly been wearing the pin since November 2016.
The Joint Powers Authority Board of Directors will hear the grievance in a special meeting at Eureka City Hall.
The Humboldt Bay Fire’s uniform policy states that a single pin that is fire service related and in good taste may be worn by employees, according to local TV station KRCR.
“My pin is without a doubt related to my service as a firefighter because recent political events have created an environment of heightened fear and anxiety among communities of color, and increased distrust of law enforcement,” said McFarland in a statement to the press. “This sentiment is highly detrimental to our ability, as emergency responders, to do our jobs well.”
In a written response to the grievance, Gillespie said he didn’t think many people in the community, located about 270 miles north of San Francisco, would “readily associate the pin as fire service related.” About 1.3 percent of Humboldt County’s population is Black, according to census data.
“At no time before you began wearing the pin, nor after you had been wearing the pin, did you contact the Fire Chief to ask or confirm if the pin would be considered as ‘fire service related,’ especially knowing that the pin did not represent a typical fire service example,” wrote Gillespie.
“I would have thought this would have occurred, seeing as the pin was not an image readily recognizable and typically tied with the fire service.”
Tamara McFarland, Matt’s wife and a political activist, has publicly supported her husband, even sending a photo of Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills wearing a Police Lives Matter bracelet while he appeared to be in uniform at a racial equality workshop to local news website Lost Coast Post. Mills defended his bracelet to the news outlet by saying it was not a part of his uniform.
Tamara McFarland has gathered more than 290 signatures on a petition on Change.org in support of her husband, who she said is a second-generation firefighter who pays attention to social justice issues.
“In wearing his Black Lives Matter lapel pin, Mr. McFarland quietly seeks to communicate that any Black person or person of color in crisis in Eureka will be safe and respected during their Humboldt Bay Fire response,” the petition states.