MARION, Ind. (April 1, 2015) - A Marion firefighter is speaking out after his former assistant fire chief threw a noose at him during a knot-making exercise.
The incident happened in February at Fire Station 6 in Marion. Firefighter Mikel Neal says former Asst. Chief Rick Backs made a noose from a rope and threw it in his direction.
“I was just instantly upset, disgusted, angry, but I was stunned," Neal said.
Neal was the only African American there during the exercise. The discrimination hits his family close to home. His wife, RaChelle Fears-Neal has direct family ties to men lynched in Marion in the 1930s.
“I do not feel safe with my husband being possibly being sent into a fire with Rick Backs," she said.
Since the incident, the fire department requested Backs be demoted. Backs then requested the case to go before city council. He changed his mind on Tuesday, and accepted the demotion.
"While tying that particular knot during the knot tying exercise showed poor judgment, I maintain that my actions were not racially motivated, it wasn't a threat, or a joke, but an honest lapse in judgment," Backs said in a public letter. You can view the letter in its entirety below.
Backs and Neal will still have to work together. The fire department says this is the first incident they've experienced with discrimination.
"We believe it wasn’t done out of malice and he hasn’t had any type of past at all as far as discrimination," said Deputy Fire Chief Paul David.
David said they are working to come up with a new schedule where the two may not work the same shift.
Neal says it's not enough.
"I want him fired, one, but I want the community to be able to talk about this and heal this community. That’s what this really is about. It's not just about me," Neal said.
There's a disciplinary hearing scheduled for Monday, April 6 at 10 a.m. at the Marion Board of Works.
After discussing with my close family and friends, I decided to sign the rank reduction to alleviate any further stress on my family and the community.
While tying that particular knot during the knot tying exercise showed poor judgment, I maintain that my actions were not racially motivated, it wasn't a threat, or a joke, but an honest lapse in judgment. I tied the knot, along with many other types of knots, and left it on the table. It was not directed at any particular person. Multiple eyewitness statements in the official incident reports from fellow colleagues corroborate this.
I am remorseful about my actions, and have apologized publicly, and privately to the person I offended. I don’t have a history of issues with this colleague, and I had no motive that day, or any other day, to intentionally hurt him.
I only recently found out that I had caused offense almost a month after the incident occurred. In the weeks that followed, I continued to interact as normal with the offended colleague without mention of the incident. I only wish someone would have addressed the issue with me that day, as I would have apologized much sooner.
I only hope this incident can spread more awareness in our community to always be sensitive of actions and words that could cause offense to others.