Underwater East River Not Nearly As Toxic As NYPD Divers, Racial Harassment Suit Claims

By
Photo: Todd Maisel/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

For a swimmer, surfer, and former lifeguard such as Oscar Smith, the NYPD's dive team seemed an ideal job, as it does to many who, on their way to the office, catch a glimpse of the team's boats heading for some murky underwater adventure But according to a lawsuit Smith filed after retiring at 48, the team itself was a toxic environment for a person of color. Smith told the New York Times he faced harassment every day, from routine stereotyping cracks — his supervisor "repeatedly asked me how it was that a ‘black man’ could have passed the swim test" — to more threatening comments suggesting his safety was in danger.

"You could go on a dive op and not wake up — anything could happen," colleagues told him, according to the Times. Eventually, he said, "it didn’t seem like it was in jest." He got the nickname tautog, which means blackfish, and "some colleagues dismissively told him that he was 'descended from slaves.'" Not exactly the kinds of things one wants to hear from people in whose hands you regularly place your life.