Pioneering Black firefighter says city’s ‘racial insult’ can’t be ‘swept under the rug’

Latosha Clemons talked to reporters about her dissatisfaction with the way the city has handled the mural fallout earlier this year. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. – As the first Black woman to serve as a deputy fire chief in the city of Boynton Beach’s history, Latosha Clemons isn’t afraid to continue to demand change in her community.

Clemons met with reporters on Friday after saying she has been having difficulty sleeping because the city employees who harmed her earlier this year haven’t been held accountable.

“You have to get down to the bottom of what goes on in your departments, your leadership,” Clemons said, adding that she has served the city for over 20 years “with integrity, lead by example.”

Clemons claims public records revealed Lori LaVerriere, the city manager, was aware of the situation with a fire station mural portraying Clemons and other Black pioneering firefighters.

City employees changed the Black faces to white when the purpose of the mural was to show Black children and teenagers in the community that they too could one day join the fire department.

City manager knew mural meant to inspire Black children was going to be 'whitewashed,' attorney says

Clemons was standing next to her West Palm Beach attorney, Nicole Hunt Jackson, who said city officials’ move to “whitewash” the mural was a “racial insult.”

Hunt Jackson and Clemons both said it “can’t be swept under the rug.”

LaVerriere distanced herself from the fire station mural scandal by saying she was unaware of what was going on. She had the mural reinstalled, and removed Matthew Petty as fire chief and Debby Coles-Dobay as the public arts manager.

Hunt Jackson said the modifications to the mural were revealed to LaVerriere the day before the unveiling and she knew what was going on. LaVerriere released several statements saying she didn’t.

“Through a string of emails from April to June, there were conversations about changing the mural,” Hunt Jackson said, adding “the emails speak for themselves ... and even if she didn’t read the emails, she should have known.”

LaVerriere has yet to respond to Friday’s allegations. Clemons, who is the only Black female firefighter in Boynton Beach, said the new evidence has shown that what has been done is not enough to prevent something like that from happening again.

“My dad went by there the other day, and he said, ‘Tosh I went by and I saw that mural.’ He says, ‘That looks like me on that mural.’ And that kind of melted my heart, because not only, again, did it affect me wholeheartedly,” Clemons said. “It affected my family and the community.”

Watch the news conference

(Raw video)

Local 10 News Reporter Saira Anwer contributed to this report.

About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.