Two city officials in Boynton Beach, Fla., were removed earlier this month after two Black fire department officials were replaced by white faces in a city mural.

Latosha Clemons, the Florida city’s first Black female deputy fire chief and its only Black female firefighter was supposed to be depicted in a public arts mural unveiled earlier this month. The artwork was also supposed to feature Glenn Joseph, a Black former fire chief, according to multiple reports.

However, both were replaced by white faces after the mural was unveiled earlier this month. The artwork was removed on June 4 amid criticism from city residents.


Boynton Beach City Manager Lori LaVerriere said in a statement on June 6 that, following a “preliminary investigation regarding the inappropriate decisions made by City employees,” she terminated Debby Coles-Dobay, public arts manager, and removed Chief of the Fire Rescue Department Matthew Petty.

“The decision made to alter the artwork that was approved by the Public Arts Commission was wrong and disrespectful to our community. Every employee in the City of Boynton Beach works for its community,” LaVerriere said in the statement. “As a leader, I have been very clear that I will not tolerate any employee to be disrespectful, in any shape or form, to any members of our community.”

Coles-Dobay told the Palm Beach Post after the mural was unveiled that she “was pressured to make this artwork change by the Fire Chief and his staff, as the City well knows.”

The mural will be replaced with the original design, NBC News reported. Clemons said she was “stunned, hurt, shocked” after finding out that she had been removed from the mural. 

"I wanted little Black girls to look at that mural and know they can have their face on a mural," Clemons, who retired from the department earlier this year, told NBC News.

"Growing up in the community where I grew up, you didn't see Blacks, particularly Black women, in the fire department," she added.

Clemons is calling for changes beyond the firing of the city employees and a new mural, according to the outlet. Nicole Hunt Jackson, Clemons's attorney, said, "My role is to get to who is responsible, how they came to the conclusion it was acceptable — and to push the issue for the need to examine policies and determine whether or not there needs to be racial sensitivity training.”

"It's a huge racial insult. For them to unilaterally take this and decide to not only remove her face but to whitewash the face, it is beyond offensive," Jackson continued. She has filed records requests for the planning of the mural. 

Pastor Rae Whitely of the Boynton Beach Coalition of Clergy told NBC News that Clemons is a “local hero” in the Florida city. The coalition has also sought records about the planning process that led to the mural.

"To have this happen to her in the climate we are in, it just reaggravated the trauma. It was unreal,” Whiteley said.