New York Firefighter Says He Was Suspended For Refusing To Use Water Hose On BLM Protesters

A Black New York City firefighter alleged in a federal lawsuit that he was suspended from the fire department for opposing an order to use water hoses on Black Lives Matter protesters last year.

Omar Wilks, an eight-year veteran firefighter at the FDNY, alleged that he was punished for 30 days and reassigned for speaking out against using brutal tactics on civil rights protesters and attempting to "change the culture of discrimination," the New York Daily News reported Tuesday.

The 13-page lawsuit was filed in Brooklyn against the city, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro and five other department officials. In the court filing, Wilks claims that his supervisor instructed him and other firefighters to "assist in controlling protesters by using the fire truck's water hoses" during widespread demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020.

Wilks objected to the tactic – which was previously used as a brutal means to dispel Black civil rights protesters in 1963 and is currently outlawed by the fire department – and claimed that he then became the target of retaliation.

"Firefighter Wilks was unlawfully punished for seeking to change the culture of discrimination at the FDNY," his attorney, Aymen Aboushi, said in the court filing. "We will continue to fight for equality and ensure that the FDNY no longer retaliates against its members who do the same."

The lawsuit states that Wilks also complained about the marginalization of Black firefighters and the lack of diversity in the FDNY, which was met with angry responses by fire department officials.

The 41-year-old was suspended from the fire department for 30 days after protesting outside the FDNY headquarters. He was also reassigned to a "light duty" post where he could no longer collect overtime pay and was forced to undergo counseling before returning to work, the Daily News reported. The lawsuit alleges that such actions were taken in an attempt to "admonish" his free speech.

"These defendants sought to muzzle plaintiff and inhibit his speech," the court papers charged. "They also retaliated against him for his speech ... (and) worked collectively to manufacture false claims against the plaintiff."

"Defendants sought to paint the plaintiff as unstable, psychologically unfit to be a firefighter, and tarnish his image and reputation," the filing added.

In response to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the city Law Department said the claims have not yet been substantiated.

"At this point these are allegations made in a lawsuit, and they have not been substantiated," city spokesman Nick Paolucci told the Daily News. "We'll let the court process play out before commenting."

Newsweek contacted the FDNY, but they referred all comments to the city Law Department as the lawsuit remains active.

BLM protests
A Black New York City firefighter alleged that he was suspended form the department for refusing to use water hoses against BLM protesters last year. Here, protesters and police clash on May 30, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Pablo Monsalve / VIEWpress via/Getty Images