Joel Fitzgerald made history in 2020 by becoming the first Black police chief in Waterloo, Iowa. But he’s under scrutiny as he faces backlash from current and former officers over his recent move to change the department’s longtime symbol which favors a Ku Klux Klan dragon, AP reports.
The city council started taking steps to remove the insignia that’s been on Waterloo’s police uniforms since the 1960s, last Fall. In a 5-2 vote last week, the council called for police to remove the symbol from uniforms by September. The move, which was praised by the city’s first Black mayor Quentin Hart, along with most councilmen and community leaders, seemingly angered many current and retired police officers as well as conservatives in the area.
A white city councilwoman and recent mayoral candidate looking to replace Hart, Margaret Klein, has called for Fitzgerald’s resignation, citing his multiple “out-of-state travels” and questioning his commitment to the city.
Fitzgerald has only occupied the position for 16 months, saying his time on the job so far has been a “case study” highlighting the highs and lows of what Black police chiefs experience when taking steps to heal the relationship between the community and police.
He says the opposition formed largely because of misinformation and racist statements about him and Hart
“I don’t think there’s been any police chief in America in a small- or medium-sized department that has endured this for the reasons I have endured it and I think the reasons have to do with race,” Fitzgerald said.
Waterloo has a population of approximately 67,000 and a history of racial discord. The city marks Fitzgerald’s fourth post after having been stationed as chief of larger departments in Fort Worth, Texas, and Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“This is my fourth job being the first Black police chief. I’ve dealt with pushback in other places but never so overt. Never so nonfactual,” he continued.
A University of Central Florida professor with expertise on race and policing, Jacinta Gau, reveals this backlash is common in areas where reform-minded police chiefs have taken over historically white departments.
“The power dynamic in America has always been that Black people are subordinate to white people. When Black people acquire leadership positions, that power dynamic is flipped on its head and white people who were comfortable with the status quo are now feeling very threatened,” she told the outlet.
According to KWWL, the Waterloo Police Department released a statement giving more insight into Fitzgerald’s travels. The department revealed Fitzgerald’s youngest son, who continues to stay with his wife and other children in Austin, Texas, is being treated for a brain tumor after undergoing surgery in 2019.
“While the Chief would like nothing more than to see the medical situation fully resolved, the reality is much different and the situation is complex,” the letter reads. “Medical examinations will be required on an ongoing basis for the foreseeable future. Chief Fitzgerald will continue to support his son, and will attend important medical examinations now and in the future.”