Detroit firefighter Robert Pattison, 41, was terminated before his first day on the job for bringing a watermelon to work. He introduced himself to his new colleagues and fellow firefighters at Engine 55 at the corner of Joy and Southfield in Detroit by bringing a welcome gift.
Second Battalion Chief Shawn McCarty calls this welcome gift “a tradition” for Engine 55’s firefighters: “It’s not mandatory, it’s voluntary. You come in bearing gifts. The usual gift is doughnuts, but you are allowed to bring whatever you want to bring in.”
Pattison, who was a probationary firefighter, brought a watermelon with a pink bow on top. However, some black firefighters were reportedly offended by Pattison’s gesture since 90 percent of the firefighters at Engine 55 are black or people of color.
“When you get your first detail at a firehouse you pretty much know what you are getting yourself into,” said Patrick Trout. “So, you would have to say it was probably a bad call.”
McCarty said that some people at the firehouse believe it’s “racially insensitive” to bring a watermelon to a firehouse, though Pattison argued that he did not bring in the watermelon as a joke or with malice and had no intention of offending his colleagues.
Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said in a statement that Pattison was officially fired:
There is zero tolerance for discriminatory behavior inside the Detroit Fire Department. On Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, at Engine 55, a trial firefighter (probationary employee) engaged in unsatisfactory work behavior which was deemed offensive and racially insensitive to members of the Detroit Fire Department. After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the best course of action was to terminate the employment of this probationary employee.
McCarty, unlike Jones, does not think Pattison should lose his job over a watermelon. “I don’t think so,” McCarty said. “Between what he did and what was, there are a few things that could have been done.”
Several left-of-center sites like HuffPost and The Atlantic claim watermelons are racist symbols of ages past, and that they symbolize crude interpretations of black people as unclean, lazy, and childish.
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