SAFD Chief Charles Hood delivers emotional speech about his experiences with racism

'If I don’t speak out and say something, then none of this matters.’

SAN ANTONIO – Standing on a podium after accepting an award for Fire Chief of the Year, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood admitted he felt pressure to be successful when he earned his post in 2007.

As the first African-American fire chief in San Antonio’s history, he carried it on his back and has “been silent” about it over the years.

Hood spoke about his past experiences with racism, his anger with the death of George Floyd and his duty to speak up on injustice during his award ceremony on Tuesday. Earlier this week, the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, made up of fire chiefs from large metropolitan areas, voted Hood as Fire Chief of the Year.

“I suffered and experienced racism throughout my career,” he said to media members, city officials and SAFD staff, getting emotional at times.

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He added that when he was named chief, people told him they believed he got the position because he is black. Hood said he was named chief because he was the best candidate and has a “stellar career."

“One of my fears was being successful when I came here because if I’m not successful as an African-American man, what is that going to do to any other chief that’s trying to get a job in this country, if I come here and flame out, and I don’t do my job,” he said. “If an African-American screws up, sometimes we don’t get the same chances that my colleagues get."

While he feels trying to hold up his race is “not really fair,” he said it is his responsibility to speak up when he sees racial injustice.

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He spoke about experiences with discrimination. At 7 years old, he was riding with his uncle in his new car in a Los Angeles suburb when they were pulled over. He said at that time, his uncle “coached” him to prepare for police interactions.

He added that as a firefighter in Phoenix, he once saw police “horrifically” beat up a man and experienced racism while on the job.

It’s a reckoning the nation needs to face, he said.

“If I don’t speak out and say something, then none of this matters,” he said. “I’m going to be black longer than I’m going to be the fire chief in San Antonio.”

He added that he has four sons, and he should not have to worry about telling their kids how to act around police.

“I have to tell these guys every day to be careful, I have to pray for their safety. So this movement means so much to me.”

Hood’s comments came as President Donald Trump geared up to sign an executive order on police reform. The order will encourage better police practices and establish a database to keep track of officers with a history of excessive use-of-force complaints.

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The nation has faced civil unrest with the death of Floyd in Minneapolis and renewed outcry with the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, both at the hands of police officers.

“There is something that needs to be fixed,” Hood said. “Black lives are precious. These young men are precious.”

About the Author

Rebecca Salinas is an award-winning digital journalist who joined KSAT in 2019. She reports on a variety of topics for KSAT 12 News.

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