2003-04-05 / Front Page

Judge Rips City At Parade Hearing

By Howard Schwach
Judge Rips City At Parade Hearing By Howard Schwach

Judge Rips City At Parade Hearing
By Howard Schwach

If the questions thrown at the city's lawyer and the demeanor of the judge who will soon make a ruling in the case are any indication, three Broad Channel men who were fired from city jobs after participating in what has been termed a "racist" parade nearly five years ago will soon get their jobs back.

"These guys were pilloried while the other guys (in the Abner Diallo case) were sort of paroled," Judge John Sprizzo told the city's lawyer. "You think that the minority community is more concerned about cops getting on a float and throwing watermelons than people who are being shot in their hallways?"

The judge's comments came at a final hearing in U.S. District Court on a suit brought by two former firefighters, Jonathon Walters and Robert Steiner, and a former police officer, Joseph LoCurto. The three, who were fired after riding a float entitled "Black To the Future," in a Broad Channel parade, have charged that they were denied due process. They argued, in fact, that the comments of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani amounted to an order to fire the three.

Justice Sprizzo seemed to agree.

"The punishment here was rather extreme given the fact that these firefighters and police officer had exemplary records," the justice told the city's lawyer.

Sprizzo said that, despite the city's contention that the actions of the three men created a problem in the minority community and within the services themselves, that "he had heard little evidence that the trio's behavior had inflamed racial tensions or disrupted the police or fire departments."

The three were fired after being photographed in a 1998 parade, wearing blackface, supposedly depicting what Broad Channel would look like in the year 2098. Walters allegedly dragged himself from the back of the float, a move that many believed was meant as a parody of the Texas dragging death of James Byrd.

The justice's final decision in the case is due sometime in the next two weeks.

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