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New Haven Firefighter Ben Vargas Was Assaulted Over Case

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Lieutenant Ben Vargas
The recent Supreme Court decision in favor of firefighters in New Haven has brought some other things to light. The firefighters sued after their test scores were thrown out because those of a certain race didn't do well enough.

Lieutenant Ben Vargas, the lone Hispanic firefighter in the case, has faced a backlash. Over five years ago he was assaulted in a bathroom and beaten and bloodied into unconsciousness. An assault that he believes was orchestrated by a black firefighter over him supporting the test results. The incident was not covered by the national news media and still has not been resolved.

Vargas also faced a backlash from Hispanic groups. At the time of Vargas joining the suit, his own brother - a member of the Hispanic Firefighter's Association, of which Vargas was also a member - turned their back on him labeling him a turncoat, traitor and Uncle Tom for standing on his principles and not supporting outright Affirmative Action.

"[Vargas] was an easy target because he didn’t fall in line. It seems that if you’re not the right type of minority, you get hammered,”
- Chief John Marquez
The funny thing is that at the time Vargas didn't even know that he was one of the firefighters who had passed the test. The list of score results was posted along with - oddly enough - just the race of who had scored what. Vargas didn't know that he was the lone Hispanic in the passing group, but he vowed to join the lawsuit when the test results were thrown out because no black firefighters and only one Hispanic made the cut. Vargas joined because he believes in being rewarded based on your merits and work, not on your race.

Vargas, who is Puerto Rican, noted that his growing up in a Spanish speaking home actually made his adjustments to school "traumatic", yet he fought on. He grew up in Fair Haven, a crime riddled town. Yet Vargas latched on to hard work and study. He looked up to an older friend and mentor, Chief John Marquez, who once told him "... don’t expect anything to be handed to you. Work for it." And work Vargas did!

“I want [my sons] to have a fair shake, to get a job on their merits and not because they’re Hispanic or they fill a quota. What a lousy way to live.”
- Lieutenant Ben Vargas
Vargas placed 6th on the firefighters exam which would make him a captain. All of this was yanked out of his hands due to those who did not work as hard and wanted a handout. The Supreme Court decision however has reversed that and given Vargas his just rewards for his hard work.

NY Times

During a trip to the bathroom, he found himself facing another man. Without warning, the first punch landed. When Lieutenant Vargas awoke, bloodied and splayed on the grimy floor, he was taken to the hospital.

Lieutenant Vargas believes the attack, five years ago, was orchestrated by a black firefighter in retaliation for his having joined a racial discrimination lawsuit against the city


When the Hispanic firefighters’ association and its members — including Lieutenant Vargas’s brother — refused to publicly stand behind him, he quit the organization.

... Lieutenant Vargas bore more than his share of the criticism, said Lt. Matthew Marcarelli, who was among the plaintiffs and has known Lieutenant Vargas since they were classmates at the fire academy. “Why the other guys viewed him as a turncoat I really don’t understand. He did it because he’s principled and he thought it was the right thing to do. Benny’s nobody’s token.”


Gesturing toward his three young sons, Lieutenant Vargas explained why he had no regrets. “I want them to have a fair shake, to get a job on their merits and not because they’re Hispanic or they fill a quota,” he said. “What a lousy way to live.”

Don't think however that the tension in New Haven has ceased. There are professional race agitators in their midst and they want to make sure that people like Vargas, who see merit and hard work as being more important than race, are shut down. In particular are these statements by Ronald Morales, the president of the International Association of Hispanic Firefighters.

New Haven Independent

Morales and others wanted to make sure that people didn’t think Vargas was “speaking for all Hispanics.”

“He’s doesn’t speak for the Latin firefighters in the country or the city,” said Morales


Morales said that blacks and Hispanics have a common interest in breaking up an “entrenched” white-dominated power structure.

“The fire service is the last bastion that’s controlled by the Caucasian male,” he said.

It's all about race for people like Morales and surely Vargas doesn't speak for him, because Vargas actually wants to do a job well and work hard.

Tipped by: La Shawn Barber

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Posted by Digger on July 7, 2009 01:10 PM (Permalink)

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Reminds me of Sotomayor and Obama...

Posted by: Kenneth E. Pope on July 8, 2009 04:46 PM

Interestingly, neither this article or the NY Times referenced my article about Ben Vargas being assaulted, which was published before any of these.

Latino Firefighter Ben Vargas Physically Assaulted, But No Press Coverage

Posted by: Aaron Rodriguez on July 11, 2009 01:02 AM

It was not a slight to you Aaron. If you reported it first recently that is fine, but this happened 5 years ago and the silence from the media back then is deafening.

Posted by: Digger on July 13, 2009 02:45 PM

I have no respect or sympathy for Ben Vargas, it's clear he a token and a coconut.

Posted by: Ernesto Negron on July 16, 2009 07:27 PM

I would like to start by saying that I am proud of Mr.Vargas, as him I am also Puerto Rican and I also want to be a firefighter.No matter the language that we speak, no matter the place we came from, what really is important is that we are all united for the same purpose of helping our community.

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