Black former firefighter sues Florida metropolis after mural depicted her with white face

A mural unveiled final 12 months depicting a Florida metropolis’s first Black feminine deputy hearth chief with a white face prompted a lawsuit, a public apology and the dismissals of two municipal workers — and it could quickly lead to an $80,000 payout.

The girl, Latosha Clemons, 48, sued town of Boynton Seaside, about 60 miles north of Miami, in April for defamation and negligence. Her depiction within the mural, hung at a hearth station and introduced on June 3, 2020, elicited embarrassment and anger, based on Clemons’ lawsuit.

“Being depicted as white was not solely a false presentation of CLEMONS, it was additionally an outline which fully disrespected all that CLEMONS — the primary feminine black firefighter for the CITY — had completed, her dedication, focus and onerous work,” the lawsuit says.

Latosha Clemons when she was battalion chief.Courtesy Sandy Collier

Boynton Seaside Mayor Steven Grant mentioned Wednesday that known as Clemons’ portrayal within the mural was “unacceptable.” He mentioned the Metropolis Fee will vote Tuesday on an $80,000 settlement.

Grant, who mentioned he was unsure how the 4 different commissioners will vote, mentioned, “I’m in favor of it.”

Clemons declined to remark Wednesday. She referred inquiries to her legal professional, Arthur Schofield.

“Ms. Clemons seems ahead to placing this very hurtful occasion behind her and is hopeful that the Metropolis, via its fee members, will make the suitable selections to permit her to take action,” Schofield mentioned in an emailed assertion concerning the potential settlement.

Clemons mentioned final 12 months that she didn’t attend the mural dedication however that shortly after the ceremony, she started getting a flood of images and texts from pals and colleagues.

“I needed to suppress my feelings, however after the occasion a ton of feelings came to visit me,” Clemons mentioned final 12 months. “Rising up in the neighborhood the place I grew up, you did not see Blacks, notably Black ladies, within the hearth division.”

Based on her lawsuit, Clemons, who was employed in 1996, was the primary Black girl within the division. She rose via the ranks to the positions of lieutenant, captain and battalion chief. In 2017, Clemons turned a deputy chief. She retired final 12 months, the lawsuit mentioned.

The mural, which was supposed to focus on the historical past of firefighters within the metropolis, was additionally to have featured the picture of Glenn Joseph, a Black former hearth chief. His face was additionally changed by a white face.

Schofield mentioned town mounted the mural and hung it again up in November. The brand new model precisely mirrored Clemons’ pores and skin tone.

“It took her again to what she is — a black girl,” Schofield mentioned.

Grant mentioned the up to date mural didn’t depict Joseph, at his request. After the disclosing in the summertime of 2020, town supervisor public apologized to each Clemons and Joseph.

Two metropolis workers, the general public arts supervisor and the fireplace chief, misplaced their jobs. The general public arts supervisor was fired, and the fireplace chief resigned, Grant mentioned.

Schofield mentioned it’s nonetheless a thriller whose determination it was to depict Clemons as white. The lawsuit mentioned she had accepted how she would look within the mural earlier than her complexion was altered.

“We’ve acquired individuals pointing the fingers at one another,” Schofield mentioned. “We haven’t gotten a transparent reply as to who did it or why they did it.”

Grant mentioned the mural’s change was meant to make individuals’s faces unrecognizable, just like how persons are depicted on Google Maps. However he acknowledged that it was an unlucky determination given Florida’s historical past as a Accomplice state, in addition to town’s historical past of segregation involving Black and Caribbean populations courting to the Nineteen Twenties.

“It needed to do with the dearth of racial fairness of what’s dangerous and hurtful to different individuals,” Grant mentioned. “A lot of the tradition was ingrained into town. We try to tell everybody of what’s acceptable in right this moment’s society.”

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