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Aspiring Black Firefighters Cautious About Chicago Department, After Court Dispute

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Harassment, taunting, isolation and racial discrimination.

That’s what some black men fear they’ll face if they ever get a chance to become a Chicago firefighter, CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports.

Two weeks ago, the city was ordered to hire 111 black firefighter candidates after a judge ruled they were victims of discrimination in 1995.

When 26,000 aspiring firefighters lined up in the hot sun in July 1995 to take the entrance exam at United Center, Handy Johnson was among the eager applicants.

“I always wanted to be a firefighter,” he said. “The first people who you see in your neighborhood are firemen.”

But Johnson never got the chance back then. Now that the city must hire 111 black applicants, he’s hoping he’s one of them. But he admits he worried about taking the job.

“Under these circumstances, it’s like being watched by the whole entire force,” he says. “That’s quite a lot of pressure, and I’m not sure how fairly we’ll be treated.”

Another black applicant, who asked not to be identified, says his biggest concern is the racism he might face.

They’ll “put us under a microscope, a double standard,” he said.

The men have good reason to raise questions. The Chicago Fire Department is more than 80 percent white and has a history of racial tension.

In 1990, white firefighters were captured on video tape using racial slurs. In 1999, a study commissioned by the city concluded that the racial divide in the department is “enormous.” In 2004, a firefighter was recorded using the “N word” three times on a radio transmission.CHICAGO (CBS) — Harassment, taunting, isolation and racial discrimination.

That’s what some black men fear they’ll face if they ever get a chance to become a Chicago firefighter, CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports.

Two weeks ago, the city was ordered to hire 111 black firefighter candidates after a judge ruled they were victims of discrimination in 1995.

When 26,000 aspiring firefighters lined up in the hot sun in July 1995 to take the entrance exam at United Center, Handy Johnson was among the eager applicants.

“I always wanted to be a firefighter,” he said. “The first people who you see in your neighborhood are firemen.”

But Johnson never got the chance back then. Now that the city must hire 111 black applicants, he’s hoping he’s one of them. But he admits he worried about taking the job.

“Under these circumstances, it’s like being watched by the whole entire force,” he says. “That’s quite a lot of pressure and I’m not sure how fairly we’ll be treated.”

Another black applicant, who asked not to be identified, says his biggest concern is the racism he might face.

“They’ll put us under a microscope, a double standard,” he said.

The men have good reason to raise questions. The Chicago Fire Department is more than 80 percent white and has a history of racial tension.

In 1990, white firefighters were captured on video tape using racial slurs. In 1999, a study commissioned by the city concluded that the racial divide in the department is “enormous.” In 2004, a firefighter was recorded using the “N word” three times on a radio transmission.

“Nobody should be disadvantaged because of the color of their skin,” attorney Joshua Karsh said.

Karsh represented the black applicants in the lawsuit. Because of the department’s history, he’ll ask the judge to appoint an ombudsman to make sure the men are treated fairly.

Despite their concerns, if given a chance, both say they’d still take the job.

The Chicago Fire Department says it has zero tolerance for any form of harassment. Anyone guilty of such conduct will be subject to swift and decisive discipline, the department says.

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