Reporting Gary Nelson
MIAMI (CBS4) – A former Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue captain, demoted for a seemingly racist rant posted on his Facebook page, offered no apology Tuesday as he and the firefighters’ union appealed his punishment.
“In hindsight,” Brian Beckmann testified Tuesday, his posting was in poor judgment.. The hearing Tuesday was before Mark Lurie, an arbitrator whose decision the county and the union have agreed to abide by.
Beckmann, then a captain, was busted down to firefighter (a rank equivalent to private) when, in the weeks following the fatal shooting of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin by a “neighborhood watchman” in Central Florida, he reposted a diatribe disparaging inner city youth.
The posting on Beckmann’s Facebook page sparked protest in South Florida and other cities across the country. The neighborhood vigilante, George Zimmerman, has been charged with second degree murder.
In the Facebook entry, re-posted on Beckmann’s page, urban youth were characterized as the product of “(expletive), ignorant, pathetic, welfare dependent excuses for parents.”
The posting got Beckmann faster than a firehouse Dalmatian.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez, himself a former fire chief, supported the discipline.
At the arbitration hearing, Beckmann, speaking for the first time publicly, said the use of a single profanity in the posting was offensive, but none of the rest was in “the context” that it was offered.
In a statement given early on the Miami Herald, Beckmann said he was a “private citizen” with the “same right to freely express an opinion on any subject” as any other citizen.
On his Facebook page, however, Beckmann held himself out as more than a private citizen.
“I did identify myself somewhere in there, I believe I did identify myself as a captain of Station 65,” Beckmann conceded under grilling by an assistant county attorney.
Among a crowd watching the hearing was Elizabeth Judd, a retired local government employees’ union president and civic activist. She is black. She worried that Beckmann’s view of black youths and their parents could transfer to his actions as a first responder, should she need to call for help.
“If he minimizes my life,” Judd said of Beckmann, “has no respect for me as a human being, then I’m suggesting that I could be dead.”
Eric Johnson, a Hialeah firefighter and union officer, also observed Tuesday’s hearing.
“I don’t think there’s two sets of constitutions. We all have a right to free speech and expression,” Johnson said. “At the same time, you have to excerize common sense when doing things.”
Johnson said he felt Beckmann deserved punishment, but thought the huge demotion was severe.
Also attending the arbitration hearing was Trayvon Martin’s uncle, Ronald Fulton, paralyzed from the chest down and wheel chair-bound as the result of an automobile accident.
Fulton said it was important that he attend.
“It’s important because, first of all, it’s Trayvon Martin’s birthday today,” Fulton said. The youth would have turned 18.
The Facebook postings that landed Beckmann on the wrong side of his bosses and the community also contained disparaging comments about a prosecutor in the George Zimmerman murder case. A post used sexual vulgarities in describing the female prosecutor’s behavior.
Beckman stood firm.
“I agree with the entire statement in the context that I read it,” He said.
The arbitrator could uphold the fire captain’s demotion, impose a lesser penalty, or – in what would be a rare outcome – increase the sanctions, up to dismissal.
It could be weeks or even months before the ruling – which is binding – is issued.