Six Miami firefighters were fired this week after allegedly placing a noose over a Black lieutenant’s family photo as well as drawing sexually graphic images on photos. Among the men terminated were a captain and a lieutenant.
The incident took place in September at the City of Miami Fire Station No. 12. According to the Miami Herald, five other people who were investigated in connection to the incident are still employed at the firehouse. A local ABC affiliate reported that 11 firefighters were suspended without pay.
The men who were dismissed have been identified as Capt. William W. Bryson, Lt. Alejandro Sese, Kevin Meizoso, David Rivera, Justin Rumbaugh and Harold Santan. Bryson is also the son of a former fire chief.
The man whose photos were defaced is Lt. Robert Webster, a 17-year veteran of The City of Miami Department of Fire-Rescue.
At least one of the men made a twine noose and hung it around one of Webster’s personal photos. The termination letters state that the men also “defaced several personal photos of a fellow firefighter with graphic and obscene phallic renderings,” according to the Miami Herald. It was unclear who was responsible for the noose, the Miami Herald said.
Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso said in a statement that the other officers may face further disciplinary action.
“It is the policy of the city of Miami to provide a workplace for all employees that is free from intimidation, threats or violent acts,” Alfonso said.
But the city’s fire department has not always been free from racism.
William “Shorty” Bryson, father of Capt. William Bryson, previously served as the head of the Miami fire union. During this time, “Shorty” Bryson kicked 62 Black firefighters out of the union after they voiced concerns that they were being passed for promotions due to their race. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1992 determined that Bryson had wrongfully discriminated against the firefighters. The EEOC also ordered they be allowed to rejoin the union and be compensated for benefits they lost during that time.
Bryson’s rocky past did not stop Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Giménez from tapping him to serve as county fire chief in 2011.
The local ABC affiliate said that Webster considered his fellow colleague’s behavior “stupid.”
“I believe in the brotherhood that we throw around so much,” he said.
Webster told CBS Miami in a phone interview, “This is shocking to all of us that this behavior was condoned by so many.”
Despite the violent racial implications behind the symbol of the noose, Webster told CBS this was not the most unsettling part of the incident.
“The most disturbing thing was what they did to my wife, my daughter and grandkids,” he said.
But he also believes such hatred is not limited to the 11 men under investigation and that the incident extends beyond Webster himself.
“These are people who don’t know the boundaries of their own hatred. It tells me they’re looking at everyone [in the Black community] that way,” he said.
A press conference will take place Friday at City Hall to reveal more details about the ongoing investigation and consequences.