Leadership: Miami Vice

Symbolism 101

Miami Herald

Six Miami firefighters, including two officers, have been fired and more may follow after they were charged with participating in, or consenting to acts, described as racist and sexual in nature.

Reports say that a noose was left over the defaced family photos of a black officer.

The photos had erect penises drawn on them.

The noose is a universally understood symbol representing lynching but a bit of detail is helpful.

Thousands were lynched in the 19th and 20th centuries and the majority were black.

A Lynching

The hanging was the end, not the beginning, of the ordeal; the victim was quite often beaten, nearly to death, then burned at the stake before being hung.

The penis drawings are more ambiguous but not less significant.

Humans have been drawing penises, usually erect, for at least 20,000 years; the question is why?

Cave Art, 18,000 B.C.E, Pinterest

“The Miami Herald reported Wednesday the six firefighters — William W. Bryson, Kevin Meizoso, David Rivera, Justin Rumbaugh, Harold Santana, and Alejandro Sese — together defaced the family photos belonging to a black lieutenant, taking the pictures of his wife, children and his mother out of their picture frames and drawing “graphic and obscene phallic renderings” on the images, before returning them to their frames.”

Simply saying the photographs were “defaced” gives the perps a pass on their motivations and thoughts.

An erect penis can signify power, aggression, control, and dominance.

Call it visual sodomy.

Coupled with the noose, the message is clear and threatening:  blacks are to be dominated and controlled.

To those who take umbrage at exploring mental motivation or meaning, conscious or otherwise, details matter.

Where’s the Chief?

So often in these cases the scrutiny begins and ends at the company or station level.

The notion that the battalion or district chief is not responsible for what goes on in his or her command area is lame.

If company officers can aid, abet or participate in such activities the department lacks an effective command structure, period.

Middle managers cannot get a pass when six (or more) people are involved in such conduct.

They have failed to communicate an effective message regarding professional expectations to the troops they supervise.


When was the last time Miami engaged in thorough and effective training around diversity and respect for fellow employees and the public?

Has the local union also been aggressive with a message about workplace conduct?

Have employees been required to sign a pledge to respect and honor others?

Chief officers will flail their arms in despair even as they have failed to implement a consistent and long-term human relations program or vision which includes annual follow-up and zero tolerance.

That is a failure from the top.


While termination is a significant sanction for these kinds of incidents, criminal prosecution should also be an option.

Serving time or having a record is a potentially potent deterrent for many people who think that engaging in what amounts to a hate crime is but a high-school prank gone awry.

And, the victim here should sue the City to at the very least force them to sign a long term consent decree vowing to enforce respectful workplace behavior.

If he doesn’t, his ordeal has been for nothing and younger members will continue to suffer.








  • IslaFire says:

    Well said Eric. This behavior has no place in civil society.

    An official from a nearby IAFF Local made the following statement:

    “If it’s a hate crime police will charge them whether he thinks it is or not right? A bad joke or tasteless one doesn’t make something racist. Why dispute how the victim himself feels? We don’t know the circumstances that led to that night, but I don’t think he has any reason to cover for them. If he felt he was a victim of racism, wouldn’t he probably say something? He didn’t just meet these guys probably has work with several for years, you think he would of put up with that? I don’t. Let’s not try to make this into something that it’s probably not.”

    Make this into something that it’s probably not?
    What kind of convoluted thinking is that? Some people just don’t get it and it’s too bad that this kind of rationalization even exists let alone from a supposed union “brother” in a position of leadership at a large Local.

    • Michael Nicholas says:

      While i don’t think behaviour as detailed in this post could occur in a fire station here in the UK, there is no doubt that an investigation of those accused would be swift. The UK union (FBU) have a distinct policy that can withold representation from members if it is decided (after a union investigation) that they have no ‘arguable defence’ for their actions. In that case NO union rep or member can represent them at any subsequent disciplinary hearings. I have every confidence that any UK fire brigade would dismiss members found guilty of this clearly racist behaviour. Disappointed that the local IAFF have not taken a stronger stand on the events detailed. It was racist and discriminatory behaviour that has no place in society, let alone a fire service….

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