Firefighters Turn Up the Heat

Last week Baltimore became the new flashpoint for police violence when demonstrators took the streets in response to the in-custody death of a young black man named Freddy Gray. At the same time in Santa Ana, California a smaller crowd took the streets at the city's annual Victims March in a counter demonstration to the Orange County District Attorney's 7th Annual Victims' Rights March. This week in Los Angeles a group called Justice for Port Drivers has called a Rally to "stop wage theft", and another, Union del Barrio has scheduled a demonstration on May 1st to "defend workers rights."

In a post-Occupy United States there are more consistent street protests and demonstrations than any time in recent memory. The proliferation of cop watch pages on Facebook has enabled people to organize, and essentially rewrite the mainstream narrative around police violence since the Darren Wilson verdict in Ferguson.

As law enforcement's grave public perception problem deepens, finding new recruits will be increasingly challenging. However, the Los Angeles City Council just approved a 20 percent salary increase for new LAPD inductees, so the rookies won't be joining others protesting economic inequality in the streets just yet.

But if you drive about 400 miles north to state capitol recently you'd find cops along with some other public employees in the streets of Sacramento doing just that, protesting a new ballot measure that they say would cut their pensions and eradicate retirement security for millions of Californians. Also in the mix of unlikely agitators, are firefighters.

Unlike the police, firefighters do not have a public perception problem. They aren't perceived as an occupying army and they don't need a Department of Justice database to keep track of how many people they kill annually. They don't have military grade weapons, or receive federal grants based on the number of drug arrest they make.

People love firefighters. Firefighters put out fires, and sometimes provide emergency medical services. But these days firefighters across this country and beyond are beginning to look more like political activists than public servants, mounting protests and marching against austerity measures and cuts to their pension plans.

And it doesn't stop in California; firefighters in Memphis, New York, and even Montreal are protesting: 8000 firefighters and their local unions from throughout the province of Quebec have announced that they'll be boycotting the 2017 Montreal World Police and Fire Games, and many have joined protesters in the streets of Montreal to fight their government's austerity program.

If firefighters in Canada are compelled to take the streets and protest, chances are they won't be confronted by an army of cops in riot gear. No arrests were made when they stormed the Montreal City Hall last August, as many police officers tacitly support their cause.

Meanwhile, down south, in the lower 48, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the day when police feel safe enough to protest in the streets as the battle rages on in Baltimore. In a post-Occupy U.S. there is a 56% increase in then number of cops killed by civilians, with new statistics reporting about a thousand civilians were killed by cops last year indicate things are moving in another direction.