Mayor calls hanging of black fetus at firehouse ‘disgusting’

WISN 12 News has obtained a photo of a black fetus doll found hanging from a ribbon at a Milwaukee fire station.

The discovery was made Feb. 13 at Station 2, in downtown Milwaukee, but not disclosed until Sunday. 

The department said the member who hung the figure admitted to the incident.

An internal investigation also identified several other members, including lieutenants, captains, a battalion chief and deputy chief “who were aware or should have been aware” of the figurine’s presence.

Investigators said charges were drawn up and will be presented this week.

They did not say what the charges might be, although an official clarified that they are not criminal charges.

The Milwaukee Brotherhood of Firefighters responded late Tuesday saying, “The Brotherhood of Firefighters stands with all firefighters who are affected by this racist act, even those who are not of African American heritage. There must be a change in the department culture at all levels. The negative effects of racist behavior that is often ignored is often followed by discrimination and disenfranchisement which has gone on far too long and has become far too acceptable.”

Mayor Tom Barrett also commented on the figurine Tuesday.

He called it “disgusting” and said those involved need to be punished.

A woman who asked not to be identified said her relative, a new firefighter at the department’s headquarters, was the target.

“She was the only African American in that unit and she was the only female,” she said. “I want people to know the truth, it wasn’t just a figurine sitting up there dancing around, it was an African American doll. It had a pink noose around his neck.”

The woman said the doll was hanging in plain sight.

“She was just distraught and she was asking what should she do,” she said. “There was a lot of other people who probably knew about it and did nothing.”

“There are still many questions surrounding the incident that occurred at a Milwaukee fire station and the ensuing investigation. This file can allow for a public discussion as we continue to seek as much transparency as possible within local government,” Alderwoman Milele Coggs said. “Most importantly, we need to make sure every department within the City fosters an open, welcoming and inclusive environment for all people to feel safe and respected. Incidents like the one that occurred should not be acceptable and making sure they are dealt with in an appropriate manner is vitally important.”

Several members will have letters of reprimand placed in their files to document “their failure to maintain good order,” the department said.

“The investigation’s findings do not reveal a deliberate or intentional racist or sexist intent, nor an effort to target any individual member or group, it is no small matter that our failure, collectively, to maintain and reinforce an environment and culture within which an occurrence such as this would instantly be questioned and stopped, bears much responsibility for this,” the department said.

Those involved have not been publicly identified.

“The Milwaukee Fire Department finds any word, action or deed which negatively impacts any of our members (or members of the many vibrant communities we serve) based upon age, culture, ethnicity, race, religious expression, sexual orientation, gender expression or the expression of unique philosophies and ideas, in a word, reprehensible,” a release said. “We affirm our mission to attain and foster a diverse workforce. We affirm our goals to provide all of our employees the opportunity and growth at every rank on the Milwaukee Fire Department, and, we reinforce our expectation that all employees will treat each other with dignity and respect, regardless of perceived differences.”

The department said the incident did not meet the expectations of its members.

It did not say how long it had been in the firehouse.

“The situation described above is an opportunity to fully understand actions we take, even if unintended, can be disrespectful and hurtful toward others,” the department said. “The most important result of this situation is that we all learn from this misstep.”

The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission directed the fire department to institute new anti-harassment training within the next few months.

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