White Detroit firefighter terminated for ‘racially insensitive’ watermelon gift

Engine 55’s quarters at 18140 Joy Rd.

A probationary Detroit firefighter was terminated for wrapping a pink bow on a watermelon and giving it to a predominately black fire station as a gift.

The bizarre gesture offended many of the firefighters because watermelons have been a racist trope since slave won their emancipation during the Civil War. Southern whites made the fruit a symbol of black laziness, and caricatures of African Americans reveling in watermelon became ubiquitous.

The firefighter, 41-year-old Robert Pattison, claims the watermelon was not intended to offend his new co-workers when he handed them the watermelon at Engine 55 at Joy and Southfield.

Whatever the case, Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said the watermelon “was deemed offensive and racially insensitive.”

“There is zero tolerance for discriminatory behavior inside the Detroit Fire Department,” Jones told Fox 2 in a statement. 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.”

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.