LINDEN, NJ — About 75 people who attended a rally in front of City Hall called for fire Chief Joseph Dooley to step down amid accusations that he has fostered “a racist culture” inside the department, including using derogatory terms for African-Americans.
Gusting winds and chilly conditions did little to temper the concerns of those who attended the March 23 demonstration organized by community activists Wally Dixon and Dondi Givens Jr. in support of firefighters Mark Bullock and Joseph Braxton. The demonstration came more than six months after accusations against Dooley were first made public.
Bullock and Braxton, who are both black, have filed formal complaints against Dooley, saying the chief used the N-word in front of them in the Linden Firehouse.
Some at the rally brandished signs declaring “Stop Racism!” and “We Are One.” Some led a call-and-response chant of “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
“We’re not asking Chief Dooley to resign,” Dixon said. “We are demanding that he resign. We’re demanding anybody that supports Chief Dooley that they are dealt with as well, accordingly.“
“We are here today because we want change,” Givens said. “We want Chief Dooley gone, out of here. We tried to be civil. We tried to sit down and talk.”
Then Givens, referring to Bullock, said, “All the brother wanted was an apology. We wouldn’t be here today, but we can’t get that in 2019. That’s said. That’s sad for the city of Linden.”
When asked in a March 23 phone interview for comment about residents calling for him to resign, Dooley responded, “Thanks for calling. Have a good afternoon.”
Bullock filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that Dooley had used the N-word three times in his presence inside the firehouse.
According to Bullock’s complaint, which he provided to LocalSource, he alleges that the chief discriminated against him in connection to his race, stating: “Specifically, on Aug. 8, 2018, Chief Joseph Dooley received allegations that another firefighter referred to me using the unwelcome racially offensive word N*****. In response, the chief made statements where he then used the word N***** three times during the course of his statement to me. I was offended.”
Regarding Bullock’s complaint, Dooley, who is white, told LocalSource on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, “That is being investigated appropriately and I won’t make any comment on that since it is an ongoing investigation.”
According to a document dated Feb. 13, and signed by John Waldinger, area office director of the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission, the commission was “unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes. This does not certify that the respondent is in compliance with the statutes. No finding is made as to any other issues that might be construed as having been raised by this charge.”
Bullock told LocalSource in September that he had first tried to file a formal complaint locally with Janice Brown, Linden’s affirmative action officer who retired at the end of August. According to Bullock, Brown had brought him and his written statement into a meeting with Mayor Derek Armstead, who also is black.
“The mayor brushed us off,” Bullock said of that meeting. “He said, ‘There’s nothing I could do about it.’ It was almost comical. He was like, ‘What do you want me to do about this?’ (Brown) was like, ‘He wants you to do some type of reaction to this.’ (Armstead) was like, ‘I have no control. What do you want me to do? There’s nothing I can do.’ He was like, ‘I have to go out and get some sodas.’ And he walked away.”
It is unclear when Braxton filed his complaint. According to a statement passed out at the rally and read aloud by Dixon, Braxton “filed a complaint outline the racial harassment he also experienced from Chief Dooley. No action was taken.”
According to the statement, Braxton complained about an incident that allegedly occurred in April 2018, when Dooley is alleged to have said, “Oh yeah, two black firefighters riding the ambulance together? The city is going to think we are pulling an (expletive) scam.”
Those attending the rally were also critical of Armstead’s handling of the case.
“We’re talking about racism,” Dixon said. “It just so happened the person who brags about running this city, that has power in the city, that looks like me, has done nothing about it. All he said was, ‘I don’t have time. I have to go get a soda.’
Someone from the crowd yelled, “He needs to go.”
When contacted by phone March 23, the mayor declined to respond. But, during a phone interview with LocalSource on Sept. 21, 2018, Armstead said, “We have an affirmative action officer and they handle these things and there has to be proper discussion before I come down … now, what am I going to do? Am I going to go ahead and punish the chief for something that was said? Or as I bring it to the chief, do I give him the opportunity to say, ‘Listen, if I said anything that was offensive to Mr. Bullock, I’m going to apologize.’ So that’s where I’m at with this.”
Fred Cassel, a senior captain in the Linden Fire Department, also has made a series of allegations against Dooley, including that the chief “physically assaulted” him at the scene of a call. Reading from a prepared statement at the council meeting on Sept. 17, Cassel alleged that Dooley had used the N-word in the presence of black firefighters, mocked the accents of Polish and Hispanic members of the department, made anti-Semitic jokes at the expense of a Jewish firefighter and used a homophobic slur against another firefighter.
Cassel also claimed that Dooley said that if Cassel were a priest, he would be a pedophile, and once asked him upon returning from church if he had gone for his “free biscuit.”
Dooley, who was sworn in as fire chief in September 2015, declined to address those accusations when previously asked about them by LocalSource.
Cassel said he had filed a formal complaint against Dooley two years ago, after Dooley allegedly grabbed him by his lapel at the scene of call. Cassel, who alleged that Dooley was not disciplined, said a fellow firefighter had witnessed the incident.