NORTH TONAWANDA – The reaction ranged from anger to shame after residents learned that a North Tonawanda volunteer firefighter – the city’s only black firefighter – received a threatening and racist letter on Monday.
“I’m appalled by it. It’s totally unacceptable,” North Tonawanda Fire Chief Joseph Sikora said Tuesday night.
The target of the letter, Kenneth Walker, a volunteer with Gratwick Hose, took the letter to headquarters on Monday night and police were contacted immediately to begin a “full-on investigation,” Sikora said.
“The N-word was used a couple of times,” said Sikora. “They wanted him to resign his position.”
“And he’s a good guy, a good worker,” Sikora said. “This is something I never thought I would have to deal with as a fire chief and it really has got me upset. I couldn’t apologize enough. We’ll help him any way we can.”
Sikora and residents on hand Tuesday night for North Tonawanda’s Night Out event expressed a range of emotions about the hate letter, from disbelief to shame and disgust.
Also, Mayor Arthur G. Pappas opened the Common Council meeting Tuesday night by addressing the issue.
“Needless to say we are appalled by this situation as it does not represent what the City of North Tonawanda stands for,” said Pappas. “I as mayor and the Common Council will not tolerate this type of behavior in our community. Any threats against our police, fire or other personnel are taken very seriously, as it is for all of our citizens.”
Pappas said both the local police and the FBI were involved in the investigation and they would provide whatever resources they need to “find the perpetrator or perpetrators of this cowardly act.”
Walker, who spoke to WGRZ-TV, Channel 2, on Tuesday reported that the letter said blacks “are not allowed to be firefighters” and, “No one wants you in our city.”
He said he was scared because someone dropped the unsigned letter in his mailbox and he has a family – his wife and two young children, who were home on Monday.
But he told Channel 2 that he was not going to be intimidated and also that he hoped this was an isolated incident.
Sikora said threats like this are taken very seriously, especially in light of recent threats to police officers nationally that have turned violent.
“You have got to take these things very seriously now,” said Sikora.