Fund-Raiser Aided Firefighter Who Broadcast Racist Remarks
Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times, Jun. 6
A controversial fund-raiser was held this past week for a veteran Chicago firefighter slapped with a 90-day suspension for using racist language in a conversation inadvertently broadcast over fire radio.
Colleagues were reportedly hoping to raise roughly $20,000 — enough to compensate John Scheuneman for the salary and benefits he lost. But attendance at the Thursday night party at a South Side VFW hall was reportedly lighter than expected. They’re now talking about holding a second fund-raiser.
Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th) was not heartened by the fact that attendance was sparse. She can’t understand why anyone would raise money to support a firefighter whose remarks triggered a wave of racist transmissions over fire radio.
“There are two schools of thought,” Lyle said. “One is that there’s this brotherhood [that says], ‘We’re gonna support our brother through good times and bad.’ The other is it sends a message that the action the firefighter committed is not unacceptable. My immediate reaction would be to say it’s condoning his negative behavior.
“It doesn’t surprise me, and it doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I’m used to that kind of reaction from the firefighters union. We’ve seen similar things from other unions, including the police union. I’m not trying to kill this guy for something he said, probably as a slip of the tongue evidencing biases. I’m sure he didn’t mean to make a political statement out of it. I just want it to stop.”
Neither Scheuneman nor Jim McNally, president of the Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2, could be reached for comment. The fund-raiser was orchestrated by Scheuneman’s former colleagues at Tower Ladder 14 — not by Local 2.
The union has filed a grievance challenging Scheuneman’s suspension on grounds that it was overly harsh, that the investigation was compromised by the Fire Department’s decision to release a tape recording of Scheuneman’s comments and that the 28-year veteran firefighter was transferred in violation of the union contract before the punishment was handed down.
On Feb. 2, Scheuneman was returning from a West Side run when he got angry at an African-American motorist driving a vehicle with Wisconsin plates.
Speaking to a supervisor, Scheuneman used the n-word at least three times, apparently unaware that the microphone on his radio was open.
Before being suspended, Scheuneman was yanked out of predominantly black Austin on Chicago’s West Side and reassigned to racially mixed Bridgeport on the South Side at the request of Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) after complaints from Austin residents fearful that Scheuneman’s allegedly racist attitudes might translate into lax fire protection.