The NYPD diving unit is one of the city’s most elite special teams, and the first Black diver to make the squad claims that he was the butt of racial taunts and jokes. Oscar Smith, who has since quit the NYPD, is now suing the department and says he was once told that “Black guys couldn’t swim.”

Several news outlets have picked up the story after Smith, 48, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stating he was the target of not only racist insults but homophobic slurs as well. In speaking with WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond, Smith shared that others on the 30-member NYPD scuba diver team told tasteless jokes about his race and his ability to perform the job.

“The joke with them was, ‘What black guy can swim? How did this guy pass the test,” Smith told Diamond.

Sitting with the New York Times, Smith, who moonlights as a surfer and was a former lifeguard, says the ribbing seemed like the typical fraternal hazing of elite police squads but he felt it was more than that over time. The Times has more:

In his complaint, he said that shortly after joining the diving unit he was “subjected to racial hostility, derogatory comments and unfavorable treatment.” He was soon given a nickname, Tautog. When he asked the other divers what it meant, he was told it was another name for the blackfish. Some colleagues dismissively told him that he was “descended from slaves.”

Smith, who is a celebrity fitness trainer as well and owns a gym in Chelsea, didn’t fit the typical tough guy profile of the NYPD dive team and claims that even before he joined the team in 2003 that he faced discrimination. Smith says that he was denied his first attempt to join the squad, and says he knows race was the determining factor.

Although Smith routinely went on diving operations with the team and was lauded for his efforts, he still says he was made to feel like an outsider overall.

The NYPD has not offered a comment on Smith’s pending EEOC case, and says it has no Black members of its current 29 member team.


Photo:  Oscar Smith/

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