- Faith & Family
Brian Gentiles, 26, says he always wanted to be a firefighter — even when he was a small boy growing up in Jamaica. So after getting hired by the Miami Beach Fire Department in Feb. 2011, he thought that his longtime dream was about to come true. What has followed since then has been a series of humiliating acts of racially- and sexually-motivated abuse that resulted in him being
fired last Feb. and then filing a lawsuit against the Department.
In a recent report conducted by an outside investigator hired by the City of Miami Beach, Gentiles’ claims of being tea-bagged several times by a white trainee, being called the N-word and of Department officials attempting to cover up the abuse, were summarily shot down.
“So many people categorically denied the accusations made against them and others so as to call to question whether there was any factual basis for the charges,” said investigator Steven Schwarzberg. Fire Chief Javier Otero says he’s glad the report is finally out and believes that “it speaks for itself.”
But the Department has reached an agreement with Gentiles to the tune of $100,000. They have also agreed to return his job to him effective early January 2013. He’ll be working as a fire inspector but only for 19 months based on the conditions of the contract. But Gentiles, who recently ended a two-week hunger strike under his doctor’s advice, says what he really wants is the opportunity to make a career as a firefighter — not just a 19-month stint.
“I have to pass a test on January 3rd that is some kind of academics thing and then I guess I can go back to work,” Gentiles said. “But the contract allows for the Department to fire me after 19 months. That’s what I’m still fighting against. They refused to commit on paper to give me my job back fully. That isn’t fair. I was the one that was repeatedly racially and sexually harassed — after I complained I wound up getting fired. It was all part of the don’t snitch policies of the Department that got me fired.”
This isn’t the first time that Miami Beach Fire Department has been accused of racism. In 1991, the Department of Justice determined the City has discriminated against Black and Hispanic job applicants.
“I tried the hunger strike as long as I was physically able to,” he said. “I spent my entire life savings on legal fees, I was denied unemployment benefits from the City for seven months and was homeless for several months and had to live out of my car. Even after getting the cash settlement, over half of it has gone to my attorney and to taxes. I guess things had gotten so bad that I was willing to sign anything. But all I’ve ever wanted was my job and justice. Being a firefighter is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I know there have been a lot of other Blacks that have faced discrimination at the hands of the City of Miami Beach. We just want a fair chance like everyone else.”
By D. Kevin McNeir