Someone called the police last month on a black firefighter who was participating in a safety inspection in Oakland, California. Someone else filmed him and asked him to produce identification.
Kevin Moore was one of a number of firefighters carrying out legally mandated exterior inspections to determine if vegetation posed an extra risk to homes in the event of a wildfire, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Working in an upscale area of the Oakland hills, Moore was in uniform and carrying a clipboard and a radio, with his station’s fire truck parked nearby.
Prompted by a resident’s call, an emergency 911 dispatcher contacted Moore’s station on May 16 to determine if the inspections were going on. Someone also emailed home security footage to the Oakland Police Department showing Moore — clearly in uniform — knocking on a door. When Moore returned to do more inspections last week, a neighbor used his cellphone to videotape him, asked him what he was doing in the neighborhood and demanded to see his ID — which the resident then photographed.
Moore told the neighbor that if he was still concerned, he could check the street and see “a big red fire engine,” the Chronicle reported.
“I try to put myself in other people’s shoes, like if I see someone in my yard, I’d ask what they’re doing,” Moore told the Chronicle. “That’s why I always call out, ‘Hello! Hello! Oakland Fire Department!’ Because I want to be heard. I just don’t want somebody to look out their window and see somebody in their backyard.”
The supervisor for the area’s inspection program told The East Bay Times that residents had received notices that firefighters would be carrying out the annual inspections in the area. Prior to inspecting a property, firefighters knock on residents’ doors to alert them about the activity, but if no one is home, they have a legal right to walk around the home and take notes, officials told the newspaper.
Moore’s colleague Megan Bryan plans to partner with Moore on future inspections because she’s worried about his safety. “It’s not fair to him, and it’s actually not safe for him to be going into these backyards due to the sociopolitical climate,” she told the Chronicle. Bryan added that no one had ever called the police on her or other white firefighters carrying out inspections.
Many Oakland residents were outraged about the way their neighbors had treated Moore. Someone asked on the local firefighters union’s Facebook page: “What the hell is going on in our country these days?” But others said they’re worried about burglaries. A resident of a nearby town insisted to KTVU on Monday that residents question any stranger in her neighborhood, regardless of race.
“It’s disappointing that we have to deal with this sort of thing in a place that we believe is open and nonjudgmental in the Bay Area. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we think racism doesn’t exist here,” Dan Robertson, president of the firefighters union, told KTVU.
Moore was one of the firefighters honored in 2008 for leaping into a flooded ravine to save passengers in an overturned vehicle.
The inspection incident is the latest in an ugly string of police calls on minorities around the nation, including in the Bay Area. On Saturday, a woman appeared to call the police on an 8-year-old black girl selling water in San Francisco, triggering an uproar. The woman later said she was just pretending to call the police.
In April, a white woman called the police to report that a black family was barbecuing at Oakland’s Lake Merritt in an area where charcoal was not allowed. Last month, area residents threw a massive cookout in the same spot to protest racial profiling.