October 26, 2021

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Florida city can’t explain exactly why Black firefighters were whitewashed from commissioned mural

The first Black female firefighter of Boynton Beach sued the city for $100,000 in damages back in April. She told news outlets: “I was hurt, I was disappointed, and then I was outraged.” CNN reports that the complaint includes a straightforward, easy-to-understand summation of her grievance and why the backlash led to the city yanking down the mural within 24 hours of its unveiling. “Being depicted as white was not only a false presentation of Clemons, it was also a depiction which completely disrespected all that [she] the first female Black firefighter for the city had accomplished.”

Retired Boynton Beach Deputy Fire Chief Latosha Clemons speaks to reporters

At the end of the first week in October, city officials discussed their options in a closed-door meeting. City Manager LaVerriere had hoped that by characterizing the mural’s racist artistic decisions as a gaffe or blunder—and saying that it afforded the city “an opportunity for us to look at the process” of how decisions are approved and changed might—lead them through this without more serious repercussions.

After initially pleading complete ignorance of how the mural ended up depicting the two Black firefighters as white people, Mayor Grant said he had heard that the request to make the change came from then-removed fire chief, Matthew Petty. Grant says Petty made the decision because Clemons and Joseph were no longer active. Fired former Public Arts Manager Coles-Dobay released a statement saying that she had been “directed and pressured” by now-resigned Chief Petty, as well as Fire Marshal Kathy Cline.

City officials told reporters that they could not comment further on pending litigation. 

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