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Posts published in “Meador”

To serve and to profile

meador

It turns out the Pierce County sheriff’s name is Karen. In one short episode at the end of January, the top law enforcement official in Washington State’s second most populous county not only revealed his real name, but also showcased unabashed racism, outright dishonesty and a staggering level of stupidity.

In short, Pierce County Sheriff Ed “Karen” Troyer is a proven bigot, a documented liar and a colossal moron.

You picked a doozy, Pierce County voters. Celebrations of ignorance really don’t get any more embarrassing than the one your friendly local sheriff lit off. If he was trying to make himself an international laughingstock, he succeeded with flying colors.

It’s almost unbelievable that, in 2021, incidents where people celebrate their most awful characteristics on marquee lights — flashing red and blue ones, in Sheriff Karen’s case — occur with mind-numbing regularity. In fact, I can’t help but question Sheriff Troyer’s mental acuity — someone this dense is surely not qualified to wear a badge, carry a gun and command a department of over 400 sworn officers. The level of stupidity Troyer demonstrated is extraordinary — the cost to his career should be commensurate with that demonstration. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

It all started like it does for most Karens: they spy a person performing a perfectly ordinary task but, since the person happens to be Black, surely they must be up to some criminal mischief, right? It’s not like a Black person can walk, drive or, say, deliver newspapers without breaking the law — at least not in Sheriff Karen’s dull-witted-yet-hyper-suspicious mind. But unlike other Karens, Sheriff Troyer didn’t just call the police. On no. Pierce County’s top law enforcement official summoned 42 uniformed officers to descend, sirens screaming, onto one quiet, law-abiding Black man who was just doing his job. Sheriff Karen SWATTED a quiet guy delivering newspapers.

Wikipedia defines swatting as a criminal harassment tactic to deceive an emergency service (via such means as hoaxing a 911 operator) into dispatching a police and emergency service response team. This is triggered by false reporting of a serious emergency like a bomb threat, murder, hostage situation or some other false report — in Troyer’s case, he lied and claimed his life was threatened.

Taken from the term for a law enforcement special weapons and tactics (SWAT) unit, swatting is most recognizable by its sheer overkill. Past swatting incidents have resulted in evacuations, injuries and deaths — and prison sentences for those who initiate them. Legislation to declare swatting a form of terrorism is being discussed in more than one jurisdiction.

But Sedrick Altheimer wasn’t thinking about getting swatted when he went to work on January 27. Like he does six nights a week, the 24-year-old Altheimer was quietly going about his job delivering several newspapers including The Wall Street Journal and The Seattle Times in the West End neighborhood of Tacoma.

Around 2:00 a.m., Altheimer was driving his Geo Prizm along his regular route when he noticed a white Chevrolet Tahoe following him. Both of Altheimer’s windows were down and, as he did every night, he was tossing rolled newspapers out of both windows as he slowly cruised the block. You might be forgiven for assuming a law enforcement professional who could decide Altheimer was acting suspiciously might also be observant enough to note the flying newspapers but not Sheriff Karen! By Golly, Troyer was determined to save Tacoma from the threat this suspicious Black man presented. Like practically every other Karen, Sheriff Karen was unable to articulate what Altheimer was doing to raise such an alarm.

Not the first time he’d been tailed by a Karen, Altheimer was annoyed that some white guy was following him again. Altheimer got out of his car and slid a newspaper into a newspaper delivery tube before approaching the unmarked SUV. When Altheimer asked why he was being followed, Troyer responded by insulting Altheimer, accusing him of stealing packages from porch steps and calling him names. Not exactly a professional-grade response but it’s becoming pretty clear Troyer doesn’t operate at a professional level. Crucially, Troyer never identified himself as law enforcement and Altheimer was unaware the nosy and rude white man harassing him was actually the Pierce County sheriff.

Later, Troyer would whine that all Altheimer had to do was identify himself as a newspaper delivery guy. Really? Sorry, Sheriff Karen. No Black man owes you an explanation for anything, especially if you’re so arrogant you can’t even bother to identify yourself as law enforcement. No, Sheriff Karen. What you should’ve said was, “All I had to do was politely identify myself as the county sheriff.” See how that works? You, Sheriff Karen, are the accuser harassing yet another innocent Black man. He has no idea you’re law enforcement. Yes, Sheriff Karen, you owe the Black man a polite explanation. He owes you nothing.

After Altheimer resumed his deliveries, Troyer apparently boxed the Geo Prizm in at one end of the street. And then Pierce County’s top law enforcement official pulled a stunt worthy of the biggest30-year-old loser who still lives in his mom’s basement: he swatted a frustrated but calm Black guy who was just trying to do his job delivering newspapers..

From multiple agencies, 42 officers responded to the panicked call from Troyer, who falsely declared Altheimer was threatening to kill him. Troyer lied. He invented a nonexistent threat, summoning an obscenely inappropriate armed response — that’s called swatting. People who aren’t Troyer earn prison sentences for it.

“Hey, it’s Troyer,” radios Sheriff Karen. “I’m at 27th and Deidra in Tacoma, in North End, about two blocks from my house, and I caught someone in my driveway who just threatened to kill me and I’ve blocked him in. He’s here right now.”

Moments later, Troyer claims the other driver had him blocked in. He derides Altheimer’s 1995 Prizm as “beat-up” and “homeless-looking.” Troyer then tells dispatch, “I’m trying to be polite to him but he says I’m a racist and wants to kill me.”

It’s extremely fortunate that other Tacoma law enforcement officials operate with professional restraint. One of the 42 responding officers quickly determined Altheimer was no threat — he was released. If it was left to Sheriff Karen’s intentional lies and utter lack of intelligence, maturity and skill, Altheimer could’ve ended up one more unarmed Black man gunned down by an overzealous and ill-prepared police officer.

In Pierce County, the sheriff is an elected position. While this makes the sheriff directly accountable to the people, it also means pretty much any yokel meeting minimal requirements can be sheriff. In Troyer’s case, he brought plenty of experience but you’d never know it from the series of unprofessional blunders he piled on, one after another.

Pierce County officials are discussing making the sheriff’s position appointed, which would make it easier to ensure only qualified candidates would be considered and that accountability wouldn’t lie solely with voters. I often decry the overuse of recalls — a recall election should never be used for mere policy disputes but should be reserved only for egregious breaches of the public trust. As luck would have it, if anyone needed an egregious breach of the public trust defined, the Pierce County sheriff just demonstrated that rather handily.

A mad, mad, mad, mad county

meador

We pay them each $78,265.44 per year.

Every month, we pay them $6,522.12 apiece to oversee the county’s various departments, to liaise with department leaders, to make sure the business of Yamhill County gets done.

At a time when the nation is starved for unity, two of our so-called nonpartisan county commissioners are going well outside the scope of their duties to enact pointless, divisive, unnecessary hyper-partisan legislation. After a year of quarantine, we have an anxious public, some worried about the safety of COVID vaccinations, others scrambling to secure a vaccination. The local economy is in shambles after a year of lockdown. Homelessness is rampant, worse than it’s ever been in this area. Yet Yamhill County Commissioners Mary Starrett and Lindsay Berschauer are focused on getting a high-profile and largely pointless gun sanctuary measure passed. And we are paying them handsomely for this exercise in personal grandstanding.

I want to be clear it’s not the subject of firearms that chafes me. In fact, I’ve participated in a great deal of recent discussion on firearms regulation and I am convinced a firmly centrist approach with two-way dialogue is the only way to proceed on that issue.

No, it’s not the issue that bugs me. It’s the overwrought departure from the traditional duties of a Yamhill County commissioner. Even though positions are technically nonpartisan, everyone knows Commissioner Casey Kulla is a pretty firm Democrat. Likewise, Commissioners Starrett and Berschauer make no secret of their hard right tilt. But at least Commissioner Kulla has the good grace to pretend like he cares about the spectrum of his constituents. Many people even believe he actually tries to represent a broad swath. By contrast, Starrett and Berschauer seem to enjoy nothing more than giving a hearty “up yours!” to Democrats, centrists, moderates and even some sane Republicans. No pretense of consideration outside the base.

We’re paying $156,530.88 of county money to two commissioners who do not give the tiniest crap about half of their constituents. Not even enough of a crap to pretend they like us.

On the heels of the unnecessarily bloody death of the Yamhelas Westsider Trail and the potentially huge debt liability attached to its demise, we were told with a straight face that saddling the county with a two million dollar debt was the correct conservative action — apparently, no one remembered fiscal conservatism. Not a trace of irony and not a shred of concern for the other half.

When challenged about the inappropriate, unnecessary, totally out-of-the-scope-of-their-duties nature of this ridiculous gun sanctuary measure, we’re told gun rights are an important part of life in Yamhill County. So is social security. So is health care. So is the economy. But apparently silly things like health care or the economy aren’t important enough to earn a grandiose look-at-me virtue signal from Starrett and Berschauer. Coming as it does after a year of lockdown, I can’t believe guns have more immediate importance to two of our county commissioners than health care or the economy.

We elected them to run the county, not embark on personal, controversial crusades. If they can’t pretend they like the other half, the least they could do is pretend to be focused on the county — you know, the mundane, administrative tasks they’re supposed to oversee. But that’s the boring stuff that doesn’t garner headlines and attention.

Meanwhile, we’re paying $156,530.88 a year for this giant, unnecessary, pointless exercise in divisive politicking. So many terms come to mind. Out of touch. Tone deaf. Self-serving. Those are the polite ones.
 

The statue

meador

This is the second in a four-part series on racism in the U.S.

I was doing a crossword puzzle the other day, a pastime I’ve enjoyed since I was a teenager. I am accustomed to seeing filler clues, those very common sequences of letters occurring in many crosswords that fill the squares between the difficult sequences. But the other day, one innocuous and very common filler made me think. The clue read: “Gen. Robt. _ ___.” The answer was four letters and I knew right away the solution was “ELEE” or more accurately “E. Lee” as in Gen. Robert E. Lee.

As a part of our nation’s Civil War, Gen. Robert E. Lee holds a prominent place in history books, military lore, even crossword puzzles. He also has dozens of public statues and memorials honoring him. The problem with that last bit is straightforward: those who fought for a faction whose overarching issue was one of the all-time great human evils do not get honored with handsome public commemorations.

Or bluntly, losers who fought for evil don’t get statues.

I avoid evoking the Nazis in comparison to anything because such comparisons are usually enormously lopsided and totally inappropriate. But in this situation, I believe a careful comparison can be both appropriate and accurate. One group of people violently subjugated another, the first absolutely certain of its superiority and moral right to dominate. The second group was deemed sub-human, codified and quantified into law by governments. Americans legally bought and sold human beings for forced labor.

The thought of this moral poverty is intellectually repulsive and physically sickening to me. And those who literally fought with violence to preserve this evil deserve no public honor — their good deeds are erased by the wickedness they sought to perpetuate.

With the Allied victory in Europe, nearly every symbol of the vile Third Reich was eradicated. Indeed, even displaying a swastika became (and remains) illegal.

But today, our Gen. Robert E. Lee holds the reputation of a Southern gentleman, a man graced with intelligence and humor, someone you’d want to have to Sunday dinner. By many accounts, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was also a good man, apolitical, a man of character. But both Lee and Rommel consciously and voluntarily fought for empires founded on the commission of unspeakable malevolence — other than a tomb-like limestone block in his hometown, Heidenheim, and a simple natural stone marking the spot on which he committed suicide in Herrlingen, you will not find monuments to Rommel in Germany.* The reason should be obvious. Why, then, is the South littered with glorious memorials honoring Lee?

To those fond of the oft-repeated refrain “but it’s part of our history,” I reply you’re right but no other free western society honors the promulgators of evil with monuments and noble statues. If you still have doubts, they should be cleared up when you consider how many Confederate memorials were erected as contemptuous rejoinders to Black people during the Jim Crow era. Don’t fret, Lee will remain a part of our history whether or not we have statues peppering the public squares of the southern states.

A friend pointed out to me that Robert E. Lee agonized over the impending split of the country and only after great inner turmoil decided to fight for the South, declining President Abraham Lincoln’s offer of command. I appreciate the legitimate complexity this lends to the man. But in the end, he made the wrong choice — and he alone sacrificed his honor for that decision. While scholars still argue over the root causes of the Civil War, one area of general agreement is that the awful question of slavery was the single-most important issue dividing the nation.

Around 1,700 public nods to the Confederacy currently exist, nearly all located in Southern states. Over 700 are statues or monuments. As a result of the racial unrest of the last few years, around 100 of them have been removed. I believe many, many more must come down — they never should have been raised in the first place. Most can find homes in private gardens or museums where they can be viewed in context and require no public support. A few can probably be allowed to remain as long as they are contextualized to tell the entire story, not just one falsely-romanticized side.

If you’re one of those people who feel you have a vested interest in keeping these relics to one of the worst collective acts Americans ever committed, consider that many of your fellow Americans are morally repulsed by what they represent. Further, many Americans with brown skin consider these hateful monuments a direct affront to their ancestors, people who often died at the hand of the evil the monuments celebrate.

I held out hope that the one good thing to come out of the prolonged violence in Portland would be a meaningful, ongoing dialogue aimed at bringing healing between the races. But we seem to have stalled again. As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this month and focus on Black history next month, please do more than cursory actions like watching a couple of television shows on the civil rights movement or vacantly telling your friends you’re color-blind. We’ve never completed the reckoning that should’ve taken place after slaves were freed or, failing that, after the civil rights movement. In a significant way, our spiritual growth as a nation is stunted by our failure to examine our own prejudices with humility and honesty.

Please don’t get me wrong — I am not making a sweeping condemnation of white people or disrespecting this great country. But in all our nationalist enthusiasm over two hundred years, I believe we sometimes forget we must own several national shames — arguably, the worst of these was slavery. In the big scheme of things, removal of some one-sided statues is a very small price to pay to begin desperately needed racial healing.

*In addition to the two simple stone monuments noted above, seven small context-specific memorials noting the life of Erwin Rommel do exist in Germany. Most are small and discreet, essentially footnotes. You’ll find no glorious statues of honor. Recent public discourse in Germany has included discussion of removal of the few notations that do exist.