By Frank Ricci, for Inside Tucson Business
Published on Friday, October 8th, 2010
Published on Friday, October 8th, 2010
On Nov. 2, the people of Arizona will decide whether to amend the state constitution to bar the government from discriminating against or granting preferences to individuals or groups in public employment, contracting, and education. I wholeheartedly support Proposition 107, the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative. A person’s race, ethnicity, or skin color should not be a part of their promotion or the application process. Individuals should be promoted, hired, or admitted based on their qualifications, experience, performance, and scores.
I was among fireighters who learned firsthand the ills of the current system. We had all studied for department promotional exams in New Haven, Conn., which is something we had been doing throughout our careers with hard work and dedication. The taxpayers paid over $100,000 to professionally develop the exams and went as far as providing a road map for success. The job-related exam tested the necessary skills, knowledge and abilities to be a competent leader. When the results came out the city decided to throw out the exams, because too few minorities scored high enough to qualify.
The action denied qualified whites, blacks and Hispanics their earned promotion in the interest of diversity. By most accounts the news media neglected to report some minorities did, indeed, earn promotion and minorities in the department supported our lawsuit. Without knowing where we were on the list, my fellow firefighters and I sued the city. We wanted to protect the process, no matter where we fell on the list.
While diversity is an important goal, it has become a code word for a quota system that thrives on mediocrity. Especially in the area of public safety, the public has the right to know that the men and women who serve were selected based on their qualifications. There are no do-overs on the scene of an emergency.
In our lawsuit, District Court granted summary judgment for the city, which the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. But then, on June 29, 2009, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in our favor. The city had violated our Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when it discarded the exam results. New Haven intentionally discriminated against mostly white firefighters to avoid being sued by black firefighters.
Arizona stands poised to set the right example for the entire country. I implore voters to vote in favor of Proposition 107 to ensure equal opportunity for all. As firefighters, we had to take our case to the highest court in the land to make sure our leaders were selected based on their knowledge, skills, and abilities. The belief that citizens should be reduced to racial statistics is flawed and only divides people.
Moreover, Proposition 107 leaves in place all of the protections against discrimination. No one should be given an unfair advantage. Low expectations are a form of bigotry that result in low performance, holidng individuals back and harming all races. Lowering the bar for some racial groups is demeaning, and granting government-sanctioned favors to certain groups based on race should be illegal in every state. Obtaining a position or contract under a cloud of suspicion only sets people up for failure. Anyone, regardless of race, can succeed in America.
Whatever one believes about institutional racism, perceived bias, or racial disparities, making a race a job or admissions qualification in the form of a racial preference is the wrong-headed “solution.” Promoting, hiring, or admitting one person because they’re the “right” race and denying the same to another because they are the “wrong” race is contrary to what America is and hopes to be. In the words of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
Do you want to guarantee fairness and equality for all citizens in Arizona, regardless of race? On the Nov. 2 ballot, you have the opportunity to reaffirm the colorblind principles of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by demanding race-neutral law and government policy in Arizona. Vote “yes” on Proposition 107.
Frank Ricci is now a lieutenant with the New Haven Fire Department. As a captain, he was the lead plaintiff in the civil rights lawsuit (Ricci v DeStefano) filed by 20 department employees. Ricci is also an adjunct instructor for the New Haven Fire Department, Emergency Training Solutions, Middlesex County Fire School and a lecturer.