Tennie Pierce, a black 19-year veteran firefighter, recently won a $2.7 million settlement from the Los Angeles City Council.
Here's the story. Following a firehouse volleyball game, fellow firefighters laced Pierce's spaghetti with dog food to "humble" him. Pierce, who calls himself "the Big Dog," took a few bites, saw three co-conspirator firefighters -- two whites, one Latino -- laughing, and demanded to know why the chuckling.
Pierce, after learning that the firefighters -- in an undoubtedly good-natured way -- placed dog food in his spaghetti, called the prank "racist"! He hired a lawyer, found an "expert" witness who associated the consumption of dog food with "300 years" of discrimination against blacks, and successfully settled the case with the city.
Los Angeles Times reporter Sandy Banks, in an article about the award, failed to mention a few salient facts: that Pierce somehow managed to survive on the force for almost 20 years; that fellow firefighters referred to Pierce as a "turd stirrer" -- meaning he routinely pulled pranks on others; that the 6-foot 5-inch Pierce often referred to himself as "the Big Dog"; that the incident was apparently a reaction to a volleyball game won by Pierce during which he repeatedly urged to his teammates to "feed the Big Dog" by throwing the ball to him; and that, in the frat boy tradition of many firefighters, his co-workers likely fed him dog food as a display of affection, knowing that, after all, Pierce had pulled pranks on many others during his long career -- photos of which (including Pierce's involvement in the shaving of the pubic hairs of a fellow firefighter) later appeared on the Internet.
Days before I read about the firefighter's award, my 91-year-old dad and I watched a movie called "Proud." Narrated by the late, great Ossie Davis, the movie dramatized the experience of black sailors aboard the USS Mason during World War II. The ship became the only black-manned ship that actually saw combat. As a destroyer escort, it shepherded Allied convoys through German sub-filled waters, taking risks even the vaunted English Navy refused, deeming the mission too treacherous. Indeed, black sailors welcomed the assignment to the ship because, during this military-segregated era, they wished to prove themselves by seeing actual combat rather than engaging in "menial" labor.