EUREKA, CA | 6 June 2017 — Second generation Eureka firefighter Matt McFarland began wearing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ pin on his uniform shirt in November of 2016. In March of this year, Humboldt Bay Fire Chief Bill Gillespie ordered McFarland to remove the pin. McFarland has filed a grievance with the Joint Powers Authority, which is Humboldt Bay Fire’s governing body.
Humboldt Bay Fire’s uniform policy states that one pin may be worn, provided it is fire service related and in good taste. McFarland asserts that “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. This sentiment is highly detrimental to our ability, as emergency responders, to do our jobs well.”
Firefighter McFarland continues, “Nobody is safe when a large portion of our community is reluctant to engage with emergency services when these services are needed. We can choose to continue to deny or ignore the difficult experiences of the people suffering most in our communities – or we can choose to listen to them, believe their lived experiences, and work together to improve the systems we share. I believe that this is a discussion worth having, and I want to live in a community that is courageous enough to have these conversations, even when they are messy, uncomfortable, and imperfect.”
According to McFarland’s legal representation, “A ban on Black Lives Matters pins exposes the District to significant liability because it constitutes unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”
Joint Powers Authority board members Joann Gath, Ed Dewald, Kim Bergel, and Austin Allison will meet on Wednesday, June 7th at 10:00 a.m. at Eureka City Hall (council chambers) for a hearing on the grievance. The hearing is open to the public. McFarland will hold a press conference directly before the hearing, beginning at 9:30 in front of City Hall.
Update, Support Matt here: