It’s no secret at the New Haven Fire Department that the Ricci v. DeStefano case has created a substantial rift between black and white firefighters. Ben Vargas and 19 other firefighters (known as the New Haven 20) filed a reverse discrimination lawsuit against New Haven for tossing the exam and thereby denying them their promotion.
At the very outset, New Haven’s local NAACP and the Firebirds (New Haven’s Black Firefighters organization) sided with the city to toss the exam. When the Local 825 elected to support the New Haven 20, Gary Tinney, leader of the Firebirds, decided to sue his union on the basis of white favoritism. Thus, the Firebirds have positioned themselves against their entire department family by supporting the disenfranchisement of those who passed the exam.
During the meeting, Tinney had presented an argument that Local 825's decision to support the New Haven 20 would only benefit whites at the financial expense of all the minorities. The opposing view, presented by AFL-CIO President John Olson, was quickly dismissed as favoring the whites.
Two days later on June 4th, 2004, the internal strife of the New Haven Fire Department came to a climax when Ben Vargas was brutally attacked at a local restaurant. According to the police report, Vargas thought there might be a problem when he entered the restaurant seeing Gary Tinney and a few other black firefighters at the bar.
Vargas noted that Gary Tinney left briefly and returned with two unfamiliar black men that looked to be in their 30s. The police report states that Vargas used the bathroom about an hour later and was "sucker punched" after leaving the stall. Restaurant personnel discovered Ben Vargas lying on the bathroom floor bloody and unconscious. Later that night, Vargas was treated at the Yale New Haven hospital.
The real question is why Vargas’ assault didn’t hit the national news. It is reasonable to assume that if a black firefighter were violently attacked on the basis of his involvement in a civil rights court case, MSNBC and CNN would have broadcasted the story everywhere. It appears that part of the reason the story remains buried is because Vargas was on the wrong side of the politically incorrect debate. And that is truly unfortunate.