1984 and Counting

Media attempts to find a face for terrorism -- and to fashion a response -- evoke George Orwell

Closer to home, three black Miami-Dade firefighters felt the sting of being on the wrong side of the new orthodoxy after they removed an American flag from a fire truck when starting their shift on September 15. Channel 7 aired a story on September 18, confirmed by the fire department's public information office, that the firefighters refused to run calls if the flag was on the truck. They received death threats. People came by the Opa-locka fire station looking for them (they'd been relieved of their duties, with pay, pending an investigation.) "We're lepers. We're villains. Our fellow firefighters hate our guts," says 20-year veteran James Moore. "You have this atmosphere created by the atrocity. I have the deepest sympathy for those who lost their lives and loved ones. But because of what has been portrayed, it has created a war frenzy, it has created this nation that just wants blood."

The worst, Moore says, is that the story overlooked the truth. Moore, who drives the fire truck, insists he'd only complained that the large flag the previous shift had hung on the cab obstructed his view of the rear of the vehicle. Later in the day, a group of his fellow firefighters talked it over. Some thought it was important to display a flag as a symbol of solidarity with those who'd lost their lives at the World Trade Center. Moore and Terry Williams, who is also African American, explained that the flag didn't have the same symbolic meaning for them. "As a black man in this country, because of what has happened [here]... I do have reservations," Williams says. "It was only two weeks ago we were talking about the conspiracy within the Miami Police Department to assassinate black men. The mistreatment of blacks in America is still the same, and will be long after this crisis is over."

Williams says that on a shift the two had worked the day after the attack, there had been a small flag on the truck and they hadn't objected. It wasn't really a big deal to them. After the firehouse discussion, they thought the matter was resolved. Until the story aired on Channel 7. Then all hell broke loose, but both Moore and Williams said the TV station never interviewed them to get their side.

Channel 7 reporter Juan Carlos Fanjul claims he "tried to reach the firefighters" but was unsuccessful. (New Times found Moore by calling directory assistance.) Because he couldn't, Fanjul based his story on the fire department's version. That's where the "refused to ride in the truck" stuff came from. Fanjul argues that his reporting was fair because the following day he interviewed the third African-American firefighter from the station, William Clark, who explained why the flag is so problematic: "This is a country that has not said a simple "I'm sorry' for slavery in 400 years." To which Fanjul responded, pointing his microphone at Clark's face: "Do you have a problem with the flag?"

The whole ordeal makes Moore question all the "patriotism" in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. "They are talking about freedom and what it means to them. [But] what if you disagree with the status quo? We don't want to confront the ugly truth about ourselves. We love to hate people. In a couple of days, we have all of Dade and Broward hating our guts. We don't have bin Laden, but we have the next best thing -- three [black] firefighters."

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