fallen angels


New York City firefighter Robert Walsh has been on a respirator in a medically-induced coma in a Staten Island hospital since Thursday. Today he still lies heavily sedated, suffering the consequences of severe facial fractures and a partly severed nose.

Walsh was assaulted with a metal chair on New Years Eve by fellow firefighter Michael R. Silvestri, in the borough firehouse where they shared duties.

It seems that Silvestri had called Walsh a [faggot/fairy/queer/homo - we have to use our imaginations here, since as usual the NYTimes isn't specific], and Walsh had answered back by charging that Silvestri had gamed the system, taking advantage of his fellows to earn extra pay.

Their comrades initially tried to cover up the facts, obstructing investigation by representing Walsh's injuries as the result of an accidental fall. He was cleaned up, his clothes changed, and driven to the hospital. No ambulance, no police.

The story may have legs, and it certainly should, for the elements of homophobia and obstruction of justice. My outrage is for what I think are even more fundamental, societal reasons.

Michelle O'Donnell's Times article yesterday quoted a retired deputy chief, Vincent Dunn, on the subject of "busting chops", as the paper's editorial calls it today.

"Everybody verbally abuses young firefighters," [Walsh is 40, Silvestri 41] said Vincent Dunn, a retired deputy chief, who added that even longtime firefighters do not outgrow the sport of razzing. "Nobody wants physical violence — that's a no-no. But there's a lot of verbal abuse. It's like society." [my italics]
Umm . . . I don't think so. [Still, if it were true, it would help explain something about how Americans treat each other and the rest of the world, and why we have only buffoons and bullies running the country.]

But can our hometown "heroes" really only relate to each other through violence, real or implied?

By the way, the Times editorial finally brings up the subject of departmental racism and male chauvinism, even if it only alludes indirectly to its effective and very illegal homophobia.

The firehouse culture of taunting may violate anti-discrimination law, and may be one reason white men make up about 91 percent of the department, which has only one woman in its current probationary class of 304.
Now that Tom Ryan has retired, there now may actually be no out gay New York City firemen, and perhaps only one woman, at least as far as I have been able to determine, Michele Fitzsimmons. It seems that with the exception of Tom and Michele, you might be gay when you retire, if you're very courageous, but not before. But in this area it's really the civil cowardice of their straight comrades that stands out.

New York should not have to put up with such nonsense, but above all neither the country nor the world should have to accept the "society" of American straight male violence, verbal or physical.

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Published on January 6, 2004 8:09 PM.

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