Friday, October 24, 2014

Don’t want law enforcement reform? Conduct a smear campaign against the gadfly

In his documentary Inequality For All, former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich admitted he was somewhat chagrined in hindsight by his behavior in cabinet meetings, when he frequently played the part of annoying gadfly—questioning every economic policy suggestion, causing eyes to roll and inviting comments like “There Reich goes again.” But Reich was probably the only true liberal in a “New Democrat” administration which was centrist in orientation; he didn’t “fit in,” and he knew he had to leave. 

However, Reich wasn’t subjected to a smear campaign by Clinton insiders; he was just more or less ignored. Last month Charles Gaither was de facto forced to step down as the “civilian watchdog” over the King County Sheriff’s Office—and he certainly hasn’t been “ignored.” He claimed, according to the Seattle Times, “that his efforts to bring change to department oversight were met with hostility and political maneuvering by his opponents”—which apparently includes the Times as well.  The former director of the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight claimed that he “was harassed and intimidated based upon my race.” 

I can’t help but observe that when white women are charged that any personality defects in their management style, it is usually the fault of “sexism”; people tend to believe that—or if they don’t, there are accused of “sexism” too. But unless it has something to do with a shooting with a “racial” angle, there is this tendency to see a minority person in an institutional setting where whites normally control the decision-making process as being, well, “uppity.” 

The Times story accepts as fact a mountain of innuendo and self-serving complaints against Gaither. The paper describes Gaither “as a man who created a work environment rife with hostility and accused of engaging in a pattern of inappropriate and combative behavior that drew repeated complaints from subordinates as well as from Sheriff John Urquhart.” These complaints called him “hostile and “disrespectful.”  

Gaither’s behavior “was the subject of multiple internal investigations, with one finding that he had directed ‘hostile and profane language’ at Urquhart during a meeting. Another document reveals a former staff member filed a complaint saying she feared ‘for my safety and retaliation’ from Gaither.” One female staffer stated she had to take a “’stress-related leave of absence’” and did not return, claiming Gaither raised his voice at her and gave her unreasonable work deadlines.” An OLEO auditor also sought a restraining order against Gaither, insinuating that he was planning on shooting her. 

Sheriff Urquhart—who angered many in the black community for his support of “choke hold” training for deputies, which demonstrated the disconnect between law enforcement and the frustration of the community over a perception of abuse of lethal force—complained that Gaither was “conducting his own investigations, which is expressly prohibited by the OLEO ordinance.” Gaither used “profane” language toward him. Frankly, so-called in-house “investigations” by law enforcement are never to be trusted, and I don’t blame Gaither if he did use “profane” language against a hypocrite.

What I find most interesting about the Times’ take on this is that (aside from exhibiting a double standard when compared to stories concerning white females accused of abuse while in positions of power) it doesn’t mention what these “disagreements” were about. Presumably they concerned the inability of Gaither to obtain any meaningful cooperation from either his own “colleagues” or from the Sheriff’s Office. 

I also have no doubt that Urquhart was patronizing and obstructive, and his deputies excessively hostile, especially toward a minority male when much of their “training” and actions are based on racial profiling. It is fatuous and hypocritical for the Times to ignore to what extent this angle—especially given the evidence of the SPD’s own deliberate obstruction of a federally-mandated program of reform—played in this “drama.” 

Since I wasn’t “there”—neither was the Times’ reporter—I can’t say that what is fact or self-serving fiction. I do know, however, that many whites have a tendency to drop their patronizing pose toward minorities when confronted with their hypocrisy, and react with self-righteous “indignation.” 

It is thus my suspicion that this is just a smear campaign against someone who apparently had to battle the Sheriff's Office all by himself. I can understand his frustration, that no is taking him “seriously.” I think his "blackness" made him more sensitive to the issues than his so-called "colleagues" who were more comfortable with the status quo. Still, if he was white, he'd still be the gadfly, but viewed more as a misguided “idealist” rather than the subject of this character smear. 

The problem is that if you are a minority in a hostile environment when you see the need for change based on your own experience that others do not have or refuse to see, it is easy to see how frustration can set in. The minority person is viewed as the “problem,” someone who goes “overboard” and doesn’t understand the “issues.” He angers people who thinks he wants too much, those who’d rather take things “one step at a time” to appease law enforcement who are dead set against reform. The Times own handling of this story say as much about itself.

Oh, and lest we miss the “point” of all of this, the real issue remains the failure of law enforcement to accept reform.

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