The image is crudely rendered and Islamaphobic with an elbow to the ribs and ha, ha, ha. As an attempt at humor, whoever superimposed the head of Jacksonville Fire & Rescue Department firefighter paramedic Jeffrey Abboud onto an image of a man dressed in a military jacket, with a full beard encircling his face and his head wrapped in a black scarf, certainly failed. In the image, it appears that Abboud is holding a human skull topped with a Santa Claus hat, with a cartoon thought bubble above it that reads, "Jingle BOMBS Jingle BOMBS!!!"
The reference is to comedian Jeff Dunham and his skeletal ventriloquist dummy, "Achmed the Dead Terrorist."
Jacksonville's Fire & Rescue Department turned over the main computer at its Myrtle Avenue fire station to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on Saturday, after firefighters discovered someone had replaced the computer's screensaver with the image of Abboud — who is of Hispanic descent — doctored to look like a terrorist.
JFRD spokesperson Tom Francis said JSO IT investigators will determine who posted the image and when it was discovered and reported. He said that the department's compliance division, in charge of upholding department standards, will also open an investigation.
The slur is timely in its fear-mongering, coming after the Paris bombings and the massacre in San Bernardino put Americans on edge, and bombastic presidential candidate and evergreen blowhard Donald Trump played to the worst in us by saying he'll make Muslims in the country carry IDs and then ban any more from entering.
It's ugly. In Philadelphia, a pig's head was thrown at a mosque. A shop owner in Queens was beaten. Someone threw a large rock through the dining room window of the home of a Muslim family who'd recently moved to Plano, Texas.
Here in Jacksonville, Francis said it is a mistake to see anything systemic or endemic to the fire department in the screensaver. "We do not condone this kind of behavior," he said. "These sorts of scurrilous, and some may regard as even adolescent, actions won't be tolerated."
Francis contacted Folio Weekly Monday afternoon to say that Abboud did not file the complaint and "took no offense to the image." But assurances that no offense is taken offered by an employee targeted because of their race, sex, gender or religion doesn't mean the conduct isn't offensive, of course. Francis cautioned that a great deal of circumspection would go into handling the matter.
Jacksonville fire union spokesperson Randy Wyse said he believed that the investigation would show no malice was intended, although Wyse conceeded the workplace might not be the right place for such fun.
Accusations of intolerance and discrimination against JFRD are nothing new. The city of Jacksonville is currently fighting six federal lawsuits involving promotions and hiring of black firefighters, including one in which the U.S. Department of Justice is a plaintiff. After a group of black firefighters was promoted, one station displayed a sign reading, "Welcome to the Plantation." In 2006, the city launched an investigation when two black firefighters found nooses dangling on their lockers. The firefighters had been in discussions with the city over discrimination, and they took the nooses as a warning, a reference to the lynching of black men during the Jim Crow era.
When one of the firefighters refused to take a lie detector test and the other failed a test (as did a white firefighter who paid for his own test to prove he'd not lied), critics said it proved the firefighters had planted the nooses themselves. That's become the story. Pushed out of mind are the conclusions of a task force of a culture where racial discrimination is widespread. In 2014, a group of black firefighters nearing retirement told Folio Weekly about the racial slurs and ill treatment they'd faced. Last year a black fire captain was suspended for using the word nigger in a meeting.
The Jingle Bomber doesn't need to be a sign of institutional racism or intolerance to still point to the need for change, says District Chief Ivan Mote, who in the past has been in charge of the department's compliance division. Mote was recently voted vice president of the African-American professional association, The Jacksonville Brotherhood of Firefighters. The organization is a party in a federal case over discrimination in promotions. He said such imagery is a problem and could create a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
"We're not adolescents," he said. "I don't think it's an institutional problem. I think it's a problem of individuals who must do whatever they want to do. Until they actually discipline someone and make it clear that such behavior is wrong ... What we have is a department where the focus is on technical job skills and not on leadership." Mote echoed criticism of promotions based on written test scores and suggested institutional changes in how leaders were trained would bring about a change in the work environment and an increased respect for differences among the force. "It can be taught," he said.
Tom Francis, spokesperson for Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department notified Folio Weekly of several mistakes in the story, "Islama-phobicshop issued on Dec. 15. Firstly, Abboud says is of Hispanic descent and not Middle Eastern as Folio Weekly presumed by his name.
Additionally, a sign reading, "Welcome to the Plantation," was posted inside a door at the fire rescue offices, not a a fire station, and it was posted by a black firefighter, Folio didn't mention race in the account, but a reader might likely presume it was a white firefighter who posted it.