Black leaders call firefighter’s post ‘unacceptable,’ ‘offensive’

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

A recent racist social media post by a White Tallahassee firefighter was labeled “unacceptable” and “offensive” by some Black leaders who expressed appreciation for the expeditious manner in which Fire Chief Jerome Gaines handled it.

Troy Marks, who posted the troubling image to a private Facebook group, was suspended for 120 hours without pay, according to a statement from Tallahassee Fire Department. The statement also said Marks will lose his eligibility for promotion.

According to accounts of the post, a Black child was pictured with the words “Are you my dad?” in a speech bubble.  It also had the headline “How to break up a Black Lives Matter protest,” with a group of Black men running away from the child.

Ironically, the incident happened a little more than a week before Father’s Day.

“We think that the social media post was totally unprofessional, totally unacceptable,” said Curtis Taylor, president of the local chapter of the Urban League. “However, we know that we have a competent fire department chief and we know that he will take the necessary and appropriate action to resolve this.”

TFD Chief Jerome Gaines

Gaines actually did immediately after being informed of Marks’ action. The chief said in a statement that the disciplinary measures taken against Marks came after reports of the post were investigated.

The chief called his findings “deeply offensive to me personally and members of this department.”

 He also said Mark’s action was unbecoming for someone who serves the public.

“Behavior of this nature will not be tolerated or ignored,” Gaines said in a statement released by Sarah Cooksey, Social Media Liaison for TFD. “I will not allow one person’s deplorable actions to disparage the reputations of the good men and women of this department or degrade the relationships we have built internally with each other and externally with members of this community.”

The post was made public during the height of protests locally and around the country over George Floyd’s death at the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Black Lives Matter has been at the forefront of those protests.

Taylor said the protest shouldn’t have been a source for the racist post.

“This is unacceptable at anytime here in the city of Tallahassee,” Taylor said. “I know that we have protests and marches going on in Tallahassee, in the country and overseas as it relates to the pandemic of racism. The list goes on and on with the pandemics that are going on in our community, but we don’t accept this action today, tomorrow or any time.”

As a Black grandmother, City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox said she found reports of the post to be “insensitive.”

She also called Gaines’ action “far-reaching,” adding that “he did what he needed to do.”