Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Meador”

Backing black-owned businesses


When members of a Facebook group to which I belong were asked if they knew of any local Black-owned businesses, the conversation immediately and predictably devolved into an us-versus-them point / counterpoint. Why, some members demanded to know, was the color of a business owner’s skin relevant? Why would anyone intentionally seek out a business owned by a person of color? Why should white people care about the color of a shopkeeper’s skin?

Does it sound like I’m taking a side by the tenor of those questions?

Let me be clear on one crucial point: a white person’s decision to seek out merchants of color is not a condemnation of white merchants, as some people seem to believe. The instinct to immediately turn defensive is utterly counterproductive. Doing so effectively declares any intentional commerce conducted by a white person with a merchant of color to be a slap in the face of hard-working white businesspeople. It’s not.

When you live in a town where 86 percent of the population is white, it stands to reason that the overwhelming majority of local merchants are also white. There are many long-term reasons why white people might wish to support businesses owned by Black people. Most of these reasons involve closing the wealth gap or strengthening the economies of Black communities. But a white person might also intentionally seek out a merchant of color just to show support and solidarity with a group that might not enjoy the same enthusiasm among broad groups of (mostly white) consumers, an advantage that an average white-owned business might have. Sometimes, seeking out a merchant of color is just a nice gesture, considering the disturbing number of white people who actively avoid using minority-owned businesses as a protest against affirmative action or worse. Occasionally, a white person might even wish to expand his or her horizons by visiting a merchant of an unfamiliar culture.

When I was a food and beverage writer, I had great fun covering lesser-known businesses owned by immigrants. From the Eastern European deli (you could actually buy a facsimile of the legendary Stalin wine and the hardcore Pertsovka vodka) to the tiny Mexican taco cart (try the lengua — look it up if you don’t know), my own tastes were generously expanded by exploring. In a time when many people are making an effort to actively embrace people of ethnic identities who haven’t always been welcomed, it should surprise and offend no one when a white person innocently asks if there are Black-owned businesses in the area that he might support.

Realistically, it’s not like everyone is suddenly going to divert all their spending to merchants of color, causing white-owned businesses to close up shop en masse.

As early as 25 years ago, I encouraged white consumers to occasionally drop in to any of the small Latinx tiendas dotting the Yamhill Valley. Back then there were only a few but now there are many. My intent was to introduce shoppers who had never entered a small family-owned Latinx store to do so, knowing most would be delighted by the abundance of fresh produce and meats coupled with a level of personal attention and friendliness they might not experience elsewhere.

Today, I hear white people constantly say they’re colorblind. They often say this right before they defend their habitual use of white-owned businesses. They say they go where they get good value and service. Few of these people know the meaning of the word “tienda” and even fewer have ever ventured inside one.

I dislike how the word colorblind is being used defensively. Personally, I think we should acknowledge and celebrate all the world’s abundant color. If we’re going to aspire to colorblindness, we should do so like children do — like the kids in my daughter’s two-way Spanish immersion program did when she was in elementary school: the kids were absolutely aware of color, they just didn’t particularly care about it. Skin color was down the list, akin to having bushy eyebrows, a long nose or wearing glasses. Color was a detail they noticed but it was a purely incidental detail. Color was separate from culture, in their minds.

As adults, we could take a lesson from that childish perspective. We could see color, acknowledge it, put it in its place among the details, then treat everyone with value while celebrating all the vibrant, colorful cultural practices, traditions and quirks that make this world so interesting.

In a perfect world, of course, the defensive folks would be absolutely right. I’ll go one step further and say they’re correct when they suggest if we all — everyone — took the step of treating skin color like an inconsequential detail right now, we’d find a far more equitable world. But there’s one significant problem: it’s not a perfect world, it never has been and there is no chance that everyone will suddenly see the light and commit to anti-racist ideals. Any thought to the contrary is either naive or intentionally myopic.

Next time you see a white person asking for merchants of color to support, chill. Don’t take it as an affront to all the hard-working white businesspeople in our community because it’s not. Don’t automatically see such a question as political or intentionally divisive. And remember, you can seek out minority-owned businesses yourself, even as you continue to support your favorite white-owned shops. You might just find you’re expanding your own horizons even as your small effort contributes to achieving a truly united local community.

Sick of it


I am sick — really sick — of writing bad things about police officers. My father wears a badge. So does my cousin. My uncle served as longtime chaplain to a police department. All three are good men — men of honor. Whenever I write commentary disparaging law enforcement, I feel as if I am betraying these men. But worse than feeling sick, worse than feeling like a traitor, I am disgusted that other sworn police officers keep providing fuel for the fires of my outrage.

Law enforcement is probably the most difficult, thankless job on the planet right now. Cops are jeered, attacked, criticized, spat upon, mocked, assaulted and constantly second-guessed — often, they can do very little in return, forced to exercise an inhuman level of self-control. People like me write bad things about some of them yet they have to be polite to us. Unfortunately, much of the public disfavor directed at the police has been earned by certain members of the profession — too many members of the profession. This shame is self-inflicted. While I am willing to say the majority of police officers are good men and women, I do not believe it’s “just a few bad apples” giving the profession a bad name — it’s more than a few. Far too many egregious examples of misconduct continue to happen, every day, often followed by cover-up actions. It’s time to take out the trash.

The argument that police officers are just humans who make mistakes doesn’t wash with me. Not when you’re a cop. When you carry a gun and wield lawful power of life and death over your fellow citizens, you must be committed to a no-fail mission. When the counter attendant at McDonald’s messes up your order, maybe you get annoyed but no one dies. When I make a mistake in my commentary, I might anger someone or embarrass myself but no one dies. When police officers make mistakes, too often people die. When you carry a tool designed to kill people, you must be held to a higher standard than a counter attendant, a store clerk, a bus driver or even a writer.

“But if only he’d just complied!” people lament. Sure, you and I know we should comply with any order given by a cop — we know we can, at least in theory, ask questions later. But when you’re a member of a community of color with a long and storied history of mistrust of the overbearing authority of mostly white law enforcement organizations, you don’t always think with a clear head. When the officer is shrieking obscenities at you, his or her sidearm thrust at your chest over some violation as stupid as an air freshener, you might be justified in your panic. When you’re a Black male, you know you’re viewed as a violent thug, even if you have a college degree and you wear commissioned officer’s bars on the collar of your U.S. military uniform. A Black man does not deserve the indignity of an automatic felony-level stop just because he’s not white. A Black man does not deserve to die over an alleged fake $20 bill, a bad check or a burned-out tail light.

Black lives matter. That is a sentence, not a reference to an organization. It is a simple statement, a reminder for those who need reminding.

But in Forest Grove, that statement was evidently a trigger for one drunk and immature man with self-control problems.

Just up the highway from McMinnville lies the town of Forest Grove. A suburb of Portland, Forest Grove is part small town, part metropolitan bedroom community. So close to a major city, you’d think the police department in a town like Forest Grove might have somewhat higher standards than a little hick town in the middle of nowhere. But you’d be wrong.

Just after midnight last year on October 31, Forest Grove officers responded to a report of a man terrorizing the residents of a private home. The man had reportedly entered the victim’s driveway, setting off a vehicle alarm and attacking a Black lives matter flag displayed on the house. According to court documents, homeowner Mirella Castaneda and her young son sat cowering in the home, terrified, as the raging suspect attempted to kick the front door down, challenging them to fight, in a drunken rage that Castaneda dared display a Black lives matter banner.

When officers arrived, they discovered the alleged attacker was, in fact, one of their colleagues. But so great was Officer Steven Teets’ drunken stupor, he didn’t recognize Officer Bradley Schuetz and Officer Amber Daniels, two of Forest Grove’s finest, people he worked with every day.

Since he was off duty at the time of this incident, Teets was free to get as drunk as he wished — but he was not free to try to attack private citizens because he despises their simple Black lives matter sign.

Is it just me or is an immature man with anger and self-control issues coupled with bigotry and an unbelievable appetite for alcohol a totally inappropriate candidate for a police force? Is it really possible in 2021 to be clueless that you work with a guy who has a litany of character faults that should exclude him from wearing a badge and carrying a gun? Wake up, American police administrators: losers like Teets are a big part of the public’s disgust with law enforcement. Can you not see that?

Worse maybe, I can’t help wondering if, like most other off-duty cops, Teets was packing a sidearm during his drunken attack. I bet I know the answer.

If the embarrassment of Teets’ alleged rampage wasn’t bad enough, Officer Schuetz decided Teets hadn’t really done anything all that awful — Teets just needed to go home and sleep it off.

Seriously? Police officers have killed Black men for far, far less than Teets’ violent episode. And Schuetz apparently didn’t believe Teets warranted even a smack on the wrist so what did Schuetz do? He drove Teets home.

If that’s not a violation of the public’s trust, I don’t know what is.

To make a long and sordid story short but no less sordid, the Forest Grove P.D.’s desire to keep the story quiet was shot down when Castaneda filed a tort claim notice. “The officers who investigated Ms. Castaneda’s 911 call worked in concert, either intentionally, or subconsciously due to implicit bias, to deprive Ms. Castaneda of her Constitutional rights in various ways and in substantial part because of her support for Black Lives Matter,” says the notice. Castaneda’s attorney claims investigating officers did not search Teets for weapons, intentionally omitted the Black lives matter component from their reports even though that’s what set Teets off in the first place and did not activate their body cameras which would have shown the flag — another clear breach of the public’s trust. Unless he’s completely dense, Forest Grove Interim Chief of Police Henry Reimann must be aware his officers’ shameful conduct is why many people have lost all patience for corrupt and inept law enforcement.

When former Forest Grove Chief of Police Janie Schutz abruptly retired in January 2020, she alleged widespread misogyny and misconduct throughout her department, including failure to investigate potential felony-level crimes. Six months later, she testified before a legislative committee, saying Forest Grove City Hall resisted her efforts to address the problems. She told committee members the city ultimately forced her to retire.

Schutz testified: “My reward for doing the right thing was for the city manager to place me under investigation for an alleged violation of city handbook policy, which to this day, I deny all allegations.” It seems Chief Schutz was right in the end, if Officers Scheutz and Teets’ conduct is any indication.

Teets has been charged with second-degree criminal mischief and second-degree disorderly conduct. He has been placed on administrative desk duty as he awaits trial. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office investigated, arresting Teets back in November.

After Beaverton P.D. took over the investigation into Forest Grove’s handling of the incident, Schuetz was arrested this week and charged with first-degree official misconduct, a Class A misdemeanor. A grand jury indicted Schuetz on May 6. He has been placed on paid administrative leave.

How can we weed out these totally inappropriate people from consideration as law enforcement candidates? Immaturity, anger-control issues, self-control problems, hatred of Black people, intolerance of those with opposing political views, alcohol gluttony — all of these should be red flag warnings to those making hiring decisions. Is there no way to screen for these character flaws?

What about corruption? When your drunken buddy gets a pass because he wears a badge when he can actually stand on his own, that’s corruption. When police officers believe they can pick and choose which laws apply to which people, that’s corruption. When Black men die over air fresheners, expired tags or bad checks but white cops go free after orgies of drunken violence, that’s not only corruption, but also moral poverty.

I am sick of saying bad things about cops. But I’m even sicker of bad cops killing Black people.

Enraged Forest


In what might be the most pathetic manifestation of mask rage yet, beloved Oregon theme park Enchanted Forest was forced to delay its long-anticipated reopening indefinitely. The reason? Threats of violence were made against park staffers and guests. Who made the threats? People who have allowed their anger at the mask issue to turn them into thugs.

Located on a moss-lined forest hillside just south of Salem, Enchanted Forest opened to the public in 1971 after its creator, Roger Tofte — now in his 90s — devoted years to building the park by hand. The Tofte family still operates the park, boasting three generations involved in the park’s daily operations. Like many families, the Toftes suffered under the constraints of COVID, Enchanted Forest’s severely restricted 2020 season sinking the previously debt-free park into arrears. A successful GoFundMe drive brought immediate relief but the park must reopen if it is to survive. If COVID restrictions weren’t enough, the Tofte family was hit with an unspeakable tragedy in September 2020 when Roger Tofte’s 13-year-old great grandson, Wyatt Tofte, died in the Beachie Creek Fire. The boy is credited with trying to save his maternal grandmother, Peggy Mosso. His mother, Angie Mosso, was badly injured in the blaze.

Like many businesses eager to reopen, Enchanted Forest announced it would follow Oregon Health Authority guidelines when it reopened on Saturday, May 22. Shamefully, this simple announcement enraged some people who are deeply opposed to COVID constraints, even when those guidelines are issued by the state, not the park. The park, like most of us, isn’t trying to make a political statement — the Toftes just want to be responsible, keeping their guests safe, erring on the side of caution.

Now, thanks to people with anger control and maturity problems, the Enchanted Forest reopening has been delayed indefinitely. What an embarrassment. But we’ll get back to this in a moment.

Before I continue, allow me to make two points.

First, if you’re one of the morons who made these threats against Enchanted Forest or if you’re an imbecile who believes such threats are justified, quit reading now — this isn’t for you. However, everyone else — everyone who is appalled by how polarized we’ve become, by how ridiculous we’re acting — please read on, regardless of which side you lean toward.

Second, I am going to make some broad statements here, opinions I’ve formed from research and observation. I believe them to be true but they can be difficult to quantify. These statements will almost certainly annoy (or even anger, since rage is all the rage these days) people of various perspectives but they’re simply my opinions. My opinions may be off, skewed or even wrong. On the other hand, perhaps there is some truth to them. My intent is not to challenge anyone’s deeply-held beliefs, but to simply provide another view. Like most of life, I think the truth usually lies nearer the center than the loudest voices from either side would have us believe. I chose the course of action I felt best suited my circumstances — I tried to err on the side of caution. It will not be productive for me to engage with anyone who wants to argue.

I believe one point on which almost everyone can agree is that this whole COVID year was a mess on nearly every level.

Six or eight weeks into the event, I collected and collated preliminary infection / death figures and ran my own numbers. It was early and, like everyone else, I was pretty much guessing. I wanted to hone my own rough figures as the event went on but just a few weeks after I calculated that first set, I found I couldn’t get anywhere close to accurate counts of anything. And it only got worse. Protocols for reporting varied from state to state and no nationwide standard was ever closely followed.

The COVID event became politicized very quickly, which made matters much worse. Any hope I had for clear guidelines we could all embrace disappeared very early on. Eventually, several polls established that people on the left were significantly overstating COVID’s peril while people on the right significantly understated it.

As a member of at least two at-risk groups, I was compelled to take the recommended COVID precautions seriously. My household effectively quarantined for the year. It’s important to note that, while we took strong measures, I never automatically expected everyone else to follow suit. I knew the precautions people would choose to embrace would run the gamut. However, I read as much professional research and opinion as I could, so we could plot the proper course for the household.

In short, I came to accept that COVID was worse than the flu, that it was an infection worth taking steps to avoid, that people in certain risk groups stood an alarming chance of death if infected, that a very large group of physicians, virologists and infectious disease specialists were taking COVID-19 deadly seriously.

Which brings us to baselines.

In an orderly society, every controversial issue is supported by baselines. Baselines are a set of facts on which all sides agree. Baselines are the collection of dispassionate details that define an issue before any one-sided spin is applied. Baselines are necessary to order — until recently, Americans haven’t had trouble accepting our baselines.

I was a graphic artist, writer and editor for the length of my career. Just as I would expect a scientific researcher to defer to me in editorial matters or details of design — fields in which I possess proven expertise — I must accede to the rulings of credentialed biologists or infectious disease specialists who have experience and expertise in virology when I consider COVID. I have no choice but to accept the declarations and recommendations of those who’ve devoted careers to understanding viruses, even if, for whatever reason, I disagree with them in principle. They’re the experts in this case, not me. And enough of them have reached consensus that I have no sensible choice but to follow their instructions.

The pragmatic part of me likened some of our COVID constraints to sacrifices Americans made during wartime. Gasoline and food were rationed, blackouts were enforced and even some mail was censored. Were we giving up our freedom to make those sacrifices? Maybe a tiny bit. But we looked upon these small sacrifices as necessary for the common good, an act of patriotism and wholly temporary, even if they did last the course of the conflict.

That’s how I saw the hated mask — yes, I don’t like it either. It fogs my glasses, it causes my glasses to fall off, it gets messy, some don’t fit properly. But I saw it as a small step I could take. I have a mask exemption so I could’ve opted out, but I didn’t. I wore the mask. I’m still wearing one when I go out.

A mask mandate is only as good as the discipline with which people follow it. If people use the wrong kind of masks, use soiled masks, wear masks incorrectly, forget them or eschew them altogether, then a mask mandate means little. In a free society, can we force everyone to properly wear a mask? Can we police the type of mask? We already know there are large numbers of people who will refuse. Does that mean those of us who are willing should stop? Absolutely not. But I’m not sure turning store clerks into mask police and accepting fistfights at Walmart are viable options.

What about vaccination? In 1980, smallpox was declared globally eradicated. Polio will likely be eradicated in the next ten years. Both will be the result of worldwide vaccination. If not for vaccines, these diseases would still ravage millions of lives.

But aren’t the COVID vaccines weird or dangerous or untested? I wanted to know so I avoided propaganda and hysteria, instead going back to experts in immunology. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines demonstrated an efficacy of 94 percent to 95 percent in preventing COVID-19–associated illness. Side effects were mostly mild to moderate and more common after the second dose.

What about that weird mRNA thing — isn’t it some untested new thing that changes our DNA? No. Again, it’s important to avoid the rumors, propaganda and hysteria so I looked to Johns Hopkins, one of the world’s top medical research institutions. According to Johns Hopkins, the mRNA technology behind the coronavirus vaccines has been in development for almost 20 years. Vaccine makers created the technology to respond quickly to a new pandemic illness, such as COVID-19. Further, the vaccines are designed to help the body’s immune system fight the coronavirus using messenger RNA. The RNA from Pfizer and Moderna vaccines does enter cells, but not the nucleus of the cells where DNA resides. The mRNA causes the cell to make a protein to stimulate the immune system, and then it quickly breaks down — without affecting DNA.

Addressing two more false rumors, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were not developed using fetal tissue. They do not contain microchips or tracking devices. The Roman Catholic Church has approved both without reservation.

Don’t take my word for it — Johns Hopkins offers excellent science-based, apolitical, propaganda-free, plain-language web resources to dispel the myths around the COVID vaccines.

For what it’s worth, I have always supported a religious exemption to vaccination — I still support it. But we must remember that vaccination requires at least 70 percent participation to provide adequate efficacy throughout our population. Vaccine exemptions and opt-outs must remain less than 30 percent — the alternatives will please no one.

None of us know all the COVID facts for sure — this was demonstrated countless times over the last year when the public was presented with conflicting or constantly-changing information. But uncertainty doesn’t mean we should just wash our hands of the whole thing — on the contrary, uncertainty points to erring on the side of caution. I know there are a lot of angrily passionate people out there on both sides of this issue but I am equally certain there are many more like me who want to do the right thing but are torn in different directions because we don’t have long-term answers. If we’re worried about doing the right thing, we should listen to the people who are experts — researchers who are in the best position to tell us what to expect. In the end, erring on the side of caution might save lives at the reasonble cost of inconvenience.

Speaking to the economic cost, if you ask me, this was a failed experiment from the perspective of commerce. Next time — and there will undoubtedly be a next time — we’ll need to figure out a compromise, a way to preserve public health without killing education and economic endeavors.

Meanwhile, families like the Toftes remain in limbo, unable to reopen because people angry at the state’s guidelines are taking out their wrath on business owners who are just trying to do the right thing.

To the Toftes, following guidelines from the Oregon Health Authority seemed to be the best option to keep guests safe with minimal inconvenience. So the park announced masks would be required except for fully vaccinated guests who could prove vaccination status. Enchanted Forest then received a deluge of social media comments and phone calls. About half of the public feedback was resoundingly positive, according to Roger Tofte’s daughter, Susan Vaslev, who serves as a park manager. But Vaslev told Willamette Week the other half of the feedback was anything but.

“A huge portion of the people were very angry,” said Vaslev. “Angry is very mild — they were outraged.” Vaslev said the park is desperate to reopen but the threats against the park were extensive enough that managers made the decision to cancel the reopening. In its statement, management underscored that “its commitment to being a place where families can spend time together free of unnecessary hate and conflict simply outweighs our strong desire to reopen our business.”

While I understand the chaotic nature of COVID information and mis-information and the passions running high on both sides, I have nothing but scorn for the fools who believe threatening a struggling business with violence is acceptable. And over a stupid mask. What a colossal embarrassment.

Let’s put this in perspective. A private business is asking you to wear a mask if you do not wish to show a vaccination card. Like any U.S. business owner, they may tell you “no shirt, no shoes, no service” only now it might be “no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service.” This is the right of the business owner. It has always been their right. It’s absolutely ridiculous to threaten a business with violence when the business is simply following state guidelines. And even if they weren’t, private businesses have placed small restrictions on their customers for hundreds of years. It is their right. COVID doesn’t change this.

I hope those who made threats of violence against a struggling family business feel shame. I hope they are embarrassed by their childish but dangerous intimidation. I hope they feel guilty for costing the business a considerable sum at a time when nearly all small businesses are suffering.

And I hope those folks who have been hesitant to get vaccinated or fearful of rumors surrounding the vaccines will look at this incident and realize the caliber of people who are behind the hysteria and false information.

Another teacher responsibility


Dueling news items catch my attention in ways just one of them wouldn’t. It happened today with news posts about teachers.

In Oregon, where Democrats have controlled the bulk of state politics for over 20 years, the Oregon Department of Education is always the largest beneficiary of funding in the biennial state budget. This would also be true if Republicans were in charge — education is expensive. The bulk of the money funneled to ODE will compensate teachers, both directly and in the form of benefit and retirement funding. This effectively makes teachers the state’s single largest expenditure.

As you might imagine, a blue state like Oregon elects leadership
inclined to indulge the teachers’ union, the Oregon Education
Association. Depending on your perspective, favoring teachers is either a wonderful, sensible, necessary thing to do or just another sign the state is held hostage to certain interests. Recently, Gov. Kate Brown ruffled some feathers when she allowed teachers to “jump the line” in the COVID vaccination queue even though the CDC’s own guidelines stated such an action was unnecessary. Some saw the governor’s move as a death sentence for the senior citizens and immune-compromised Oregonians who would be displaced by younger and healthier educators.

I have mixed feelings on all this because I understand arguments coming from both sides of the aisle. But the dueling stories I saw this morning helped put things in a better perspective for me.

The first story featured former Thurston High School English teacher and girls’ basketball coach Lisa DeFluri. Back in 2015, DeFluri made headlines when she got married at a tailgate party in Pasadena during a semifinal college playoff game at the Rose Bowl. But DeFluri made headlines of a far darker nature this week, when she was sentenced to seven years in prison for having sex with an underage student.

The second story recounted the events on Thursday in Rigby, Idaho. Rigby Middle School teacher Krista Gneiting is being hailed a hero after she disarmed a student who’d just shot three people. The shooter wounded two students and a custodian before Gneiting managed to get the gun and subdue the student until police arrived.

Teachers are being called upon to disarm our students, our shooting students. That sentence, right there — that’s when it hit me.

We have, it seems, accepted teachers disarming student shooters as an unfortunate but necessary fact of life.

This is not an anti-gun screed. It’s a simple statement that what we’re currently doing is not working, unless you’re okay with teachers being faced with guns on a fairly regular basis. I don’t believe eliminating guns in the U.S. is even possible and I’m not suggesting any attempt to do so. But the status quo and some of the proposals to stop school shootings remain unacceptable.

The Journal of Adolescent Health reports that resource police officers detailed to schools do not significantly affect the outcome of school shootings. The Giffords Law Center (yes, I know it’s a partisan entity but the organization uses actual science to back its claims) cataloged the risk posed to student safety when guns are allowed in schools — meaning guns allowed for certain responsible adults. The center concluded the data is clear: more guns in schools means putting students in harm’s way. Besides, do Americans really want everyone armed everywhere like the Wild West? My point is twofold: first, as I already stated, the status quo is unacceptable to reasonable people; and second, proposals to arm teachers as a solution are absurd.

During the COVID year 2020, we relaxed a little because mass shootings almost stopped. Now that they’ve started up again as the nation reopens, I believe it’s time to confront the fact that we expect teachers to disarm their students who come to school to kill people.

Coach Keanon Lowe at Parkrose High School in Portland, famously hugged a student after disarming him in 2019.

The year before, three teachers were shot dead when a student shooter rampaged through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. One was killed shielding students and one ran toward the sound of gunfire before he was shot.

Science teacher Jason Seaman was shot three times when he disarmed a shooting student at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana in 2018.

Back to Oregon for the 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg. There, an adjunct professor of English, Larry Levine, wasn’t given a chance to attempt disarming before the student shooter killed him first by shooting the teacher in the face.

Science teacher Ryan Heber suffered a gunshot wound to his head when he disarmed a shooting student at Taft Union High School in Taft,
California in 2013.

Six teachers died when a young shooter mowed down 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Jersey in 2012. I’d wager at least one of them made some effort to disarm or talk down the shooter before dying.

Computer teacher Dave Sanders is credited with saving more than 100 students before he was shot at Columbine High School in Denver in 1999. Sanders was shot in the back but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have shirked if he’d faced the student killers before they shot him.

The list goes on and on. Over 300 school shootings in the U.S. since 2000.

And remember, the Oregon school in the first of my dueling stories — Thurston High School in Springfield — was the scene of Oregon’s
second-worst school shooting back in 1998.

Teachers are regularly accused of indoctrinating our kids, of
mistreating them, molesting them, failing them. Although in relatively rare instances they sometimes fall far short of what society expects, they usually don’t. Teachers are responsible for far more inspiration than degradation, the DeFluris of the world notwithstanding.

And now we expect them to disarm our student shooters, too.

As long as the public and lawmakers are cool with this statement, no one should oppose any request or demand from the Oregon Education Association. When our educators are required to add life-threatening heroic actions to what they may be called upon to do in the course of an ordinary teacher’s workday, they deserve every bit of compensation they ask for.

A gift


When you write about food and drink, recurring topics will crop up out of necessity. This isn’t because a writer has nothing new to write about. On the contrary, there’s always a new restaurant, dish, brew or wine to be tasted and described. But certain characteristics of a community will frequently make guest appearances — local themes around which to craft stories. In Yamhill County, the most common characteristic from my food-and-beverage days was the area’s incredible sense of hospitality, the community’s unquestioning generosity of spirit, its willingness — indeed, its desire — to give.

All communities have certain groups who work to ensure their city’s image is a good one. But McMinnville has these people and this quality in spades.

I recall one of the first projects I worked on after moving here — it was some charitable event. I remember seeing a successful older local businessman working side-by-side with a single mother of modest means. This city father and this dedicated mother were working toward the same goal — two people from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum were joined in a common purpose to benefit someone who wasn’t them. I marveled at this sight then, so rare was such a pairing in my experience.

Since then, I have seen the same scene play out hundreds of times. And I’ve written about it probably dozens of times.

This community has a spirit of giving unlike any community I have ever witnessed. It’s really quite amazing. Since I’ve become a local, myself, now, I know we take a quiet pride in the way we step up when there’s a need, the way we don’t hesitate to offer what we can give when it’s needed. We’re proud not in a haughty way, but in that quietly confident manner earned from knowing we will do what’s needed when asked, every time.

Against the backdrop of this community spirit of giving, it’s fitting for one of the all-time great community gifts to have occurred right here in the Yamhill Valley. With no fanfare, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde presented the region with a fantastic act of generosity. When the tribe had completed administering COVID vaccinations to its members and the staff of its casino and hospitality ventures, it decided there was no reason to stop there.

So they offered free vaccination to anyone who wanted it.

After what was probably the craziest year of my lifetime, what a delightful breath of fresh air!

But the most remarkable aspect may have been the low-key manner in which the tribe gave their gift. As the Native people behind one of Oregon’s top tourist destinations, Spirit Mountain Casino, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is well-versed in the need to keep their gaming property in the minds of consumers, particularly as other tribes attempt to enter the Portland market. That’s why Spirit Mountain has sponsored highly visible events like the Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade. But when the tribe could’ve generated a great deal of publicity for itself as it gave away vaccines, it chose to do so quietly, instead.

The reason was simple.

“It was the right thing to do,” said Sara Thompson, Communications Director for the tribe. “Vaccinations provide everyone with a rare opportunity to be proactive in our fight against COVID-19 and begin to heal.”

Fully staffed by qualified clinicians, the tribe’s vaccine clinics were organized to minimize lines, waiting and contact between people. Medical professionals were on hand to answer questions and follow-up appointments were scheduled on the first visit. As word-of-mouth and social media posts spread the tribe’s generosity, people from all over the region took advantage of the tribe’s incredible generosity. The Portland Trailblazers even received the tribe’s incredible gift!

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde has long been a highly visible part of the state’s charitable landscape. If I remember correctly, the tribe held the top spot as Oregon’s biggest philanthropist for a number of sequential years, as early as the 1990s and 2000s. I had difficulty finding figures from this period to confirm my recollection but, according to Thompson, the tribe remains a big player among Oregon’s givers today. “The tribe is the largest tribal philanthropist in the state,” said Thompson. “We have always believed in continuing the Native tradition of potlach, a ceremony where good fortune is shared and distributed.” Thompson explained the potlach principal guides the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, which was founded in 1997. To date, the fund has donated over $85 million to Oregon non-profits.

Acknowledging the catastrophic damage caused when her people first encountered Europeans, Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle Kennedy encouraged vaccination. “That’s the same kind of thing we’re facing now,” said Kennedy in a Facebook Livecast a week ago. “But we have an answer!”

Thompson said participants all have their own reasons for getting vaccinated. “Whether it’s the immune-compromised grocery store worker, the grandparents who want to hug their grandchildren or the spouse who wants to protect their partner who recently beat cancer, they all have their reasons,” she said. “Getting the vaccination allows them to breathe a little easier and take a step back towards normal.”

So far, the tribe has administered over 17,000 vaccinations, all free of charge.

I no longer write much about food or drink. But I will undoubtedly continue to write about life in this area and I will almost certainly mention again the spirit of giving that marks the local population as special. At the end of a crazy year of unprecedented political gutter fighting, unending wildfires and a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) pandemic, how grateful I am that the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde offered us the gift of vaccination. It’s fitting that such an enormous gift given with such grace happened right here in the Yamhill Valley.

The irony of a gesture


The first time I saw it, I did a double-take. Honestly, there was no doubt in my mind that what I saw was a gesture of respect. After all, Tim Tebow had been kneeling just a few years before and conservatives loved the symbolism. Since I don’t follow U.S. football and I didn’t really know a lot about Colin Kaepernick, I had little reason to doubt that a genuflection during the solemn playing of the national anthem was anything other than a gesture of reverence. I knew both Tebow and Kaepernick were on the record making firm declarations of their Christian faiths. It took my wife — who has never successfully managed to explain football to me — to correct me, telling me Kaepernick’s dignified kneel was actually a quiet protest.

I have always considered myself a patriot but, on seeing several of Kaepernick’s early kneels, I thought he was probably the most respectful protester I had ever witnessed. Back before Kaepernick became a lightning rod, he was just a man who wanted to draw attention to the enormous disparity in the way law enforcement is conducted against people of color versus white people. The disparity is a demonstrably real long-term problem and Kaepernick figured he had the perfect low-key protest to spark a conversation.

What I didn’t discover until later was that Kaepernick sought advice to make sure he didn’t dishonor U.S. service people. Because he wanted to protest without making a big scene, Kaepernick asked fellow football player Nate Boyer what he thought if Kaepernick protested by remaining seated on the bench during the playing of the anthem. Boyer, a veteran Army Green Beret with multiple tours of Afghanistan and Iraq under his belt, suggested his friend kneel instead of sitting, because kneeling would be respectful. Kaepernick took Boyer’s advice. Both men knew taking this small action during the national anthem would garner at least a little attention.

If there’s anything we’ve learned over the last year of protests and riots, it’s that our level of discomfort is directly proportionate the robustness of the conversation we’re having about race. The second we start to get comfortable again, the conversation stops. As it turned out, Kaepernick’s simple protest caused a much greater discomfort than anyone expected.

Boyer and Kaepernick were left reeling by the intensity of public reaction. Kneeling or genuflecting is a universal sign of submission, a gesture of honor or reverence. We kneel before God, we kneel before the cross, we kneel before sovereigns, sometimes we even kneel before a flag. If Kaepernick had turned his back on the flag or remained seated, those choices would’ve been clearly disrespectful. But kneeling? Admittedly, Kaepernick’s kneeling was a protest statement but it was a careful and dignified one.

Kaepernick’s protest ignited a great deal of public outrage. The act of genuflection — chosen specifically because it was not a disrespectful gesture — was universally being interpreted as some sort of desecration of the flag, mockery of the anthem and/or ridicule of service members. Kaepernick was accused of everything from inciting unrest to treason. But when the hyperbole and hysteria are put aside, what he really did was try to start a needed national conversation.

“All of you people who insist on constantly talking about race are just throwing gas on the fire,” many tired white people have told me. “We just need to stop talking about race and be colorblind,” they say.

No, I reply. Emancipation created freedom but it also earned the seething resentment of white Southerners. In fact, it was only after Emancipation that Southerners furiously started erecting the bulk of their Civil War monuments — a direct slap-in-the-face to the freed Black Americans who now moved among them. Since that conflict, we’ve missed numerous opportunities to have the desperately needed referendum on race we should’ve had long ago. From the exclusion of the G.I. Bill to the intentional racism of redlining, Black Americans have never had a fair chance at achieving what white people like to call the American Dream. Not then. Not now. Not once.

It’s going to take an honest national examination of our prejudices, our assumptions, our expectations — this is the reckoning I and others are referencing.

As novelist James Baldwin correctly pointed out, not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced. Now is absolutely not the time to bury our heads in the sand, pretending that nothing is wrong. The U.S. holds the dubious dual global distinctions of highest incarceration rate and highest number of imprisoned people. Further, Black people are imprisoned at a rate more than five times that of whites. One of every three Black male youths can expect to serve a prison sentence. Land of the free? Not so much.

The cost of Kaepernick’s protest was enormous. He effectively lost his career and might, for a while, have been the most hated man in America. But the movement he launched has contributed significantly to getting us talking about race. A century from now, history will almost certainly have declared Colin Kaepernick a hero of the civil rights movement. You don’t have to like the guy or to embrace his more controversial antics, but no one can argue his method of protest was downright respectable when compared to, say, invading the U.S. Capitol.

When Colin Kaepernick kneels, he does so silently. With a measure of quiet dignity, he kneels for an average of one minute and forty-three seconds, the median length of a game-time anthem. Last week gave us a sickening close-up look at another kneeling incident, as video was played in court over and over. This kneel lasted nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds. It cost one man his life and sent another to prison. In the most twisted of ironies, the nine-and-a-half-minute kneel was exactly the sort of violence Kaepernick was protesting with his quiet, stoic act of protest.

(photo/Tammy Anthony Baker)

An Appetite for Argument


I was horrified this week to discover I hadn’t followed my own advice. It wasn’t the big one, mind you. I spent two decades preaching the unifying power of food and drink because what can spark a shared passion better than a magnificent meal accompanied by a favorite adult beverage? This advice I could never forget — I carry around a permanent reminder in the form of my belly. My job, it seems, sent me to the big-and-tall shop as penance.

No, the advice I forgot was the one about divorcing myself from my own perspective long enough to glimpse the contrasting perspective of someone else. This quiet task is immensely useful in understanding how other people think. More subtly but probably no less importantly, divorcing myself from my own perspective allows me to get an idea how I, myself, am perceived by others. Understanding the perceptions of others — both universal and personal — is crucial for any opinion writer. Of course, that’s exactly the bit I’d forgotten.

People who know me are aware I tend to play well with others — I have friends from one side of the political spectrum to the other. I am a moderate Republican, a political centrist, a person who is about one-third liberal Democrat, one-third conservative Republican and one-third Libertarian, if you parsed me. In person, people tend to like me, although I can sometimes tire people out. Certain rigidly unimaginative people find my humor inappropriate or — gasp! — immature.

Everyone knows I have become everything I ever mocked — I’ve joked about it even though it’s hardly hyperbole. But I believed I was safe writing commentary. I was convinced I was passionately writing about causes close to me and people I love, fighting the good fight, perched on the same latter-day moral high ground everyone else claims to hold, too. In my head anyway, that’s what I was doing. I might be a little grouchy from time to time but my favorite political writers have always cultivated a little curmudgeonliness so why not me?

Then a friend who doesn’t really know me all that well stumbled on some of my political commentary on her way to find a humor piece I’d written. (Yes, I’ve been known to write humor, too. Shut up.)

It took less than two minutes for me to divorce myself from my oblivious perspective and see that my collection of opinion manifestos painted a decidedly unflattering picture for those who do not know me well. As a series of angry essays flashed before my eyes, I was horrified to realize I was one of those ranting cranks I frequently decry. I could almost feel the color drain from my face as I was forced to admit I was a raving lunatic.

It seems the journey from celebrator of the rich food and beverage scene to the wasteland of political controversy reduced me to an overfed complainer who could regurgitate vitriol faster than you could say Pinot Evil. Think Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life only without the tuxedo. Or the bucket. Or even the cleaning woman.

It doesn’t help that a pandemic robbed me of material and a platform from which to broadcast it. And to be fair, all of this is not entirely my fault, considering I can’t use my favorite writing tool.

For 20 years, I dutifully described local cuisine, wine and beer in print. I also wrote many dozens of committee testimonies supporting bills before the Oregon Legislature. In addition, I authored hundreds of business profiles for merchants and professionals all over the region. Through it all, I used my lifetime of collected anecdotes to help tell many of these stories, finding that humor could capture an audience far better than dry narrative, even in legislative testimony. In the dining and drink magazines on which I worked, I used a great deal of humor to emphasize the thousands of traits or tastes we have in common, hopefully discouraging us from focusing mostly on the half-dozen issues about which we disagree. Whether you liked what I wrote or not, you could never call it divisive or controversial.

Then COVID came along and took my livelihood along with all the disinfectant spray and toilet paper. Food and wine writer, restaurant reviewer, wine columnist, brew taster, editor-in-chief of a statewide beer magazine, managing editor of an upscale regional dining and spirits magazine: those titles meant nothing when all the restaurants were shut down, many never to open again. If I can’t write about food, I reasoned, I might as well go on a diet and write about political topics. Besides, I didn’t have any toilet paper so it was a practical decision, too.

Just one problem: last time I wrote about politics, we all liked each other so I could use humor liberally as I weighed in on the topics of the day. I knew instinctively that humor would be off the table this time, considering that we all hate each other now and no one finds anything remotely funny. I never considered that passion untempered by levity could sound dangerously close to the timbre of a Goebbels speech. Without humor, all textual communications tend to be interpreted somewhat more gravely than they were intended, anyway. Blithely unaware, I became like one of those perpetual letters-to-the-editor cranks who pepper the newspaper with complaints. Even a few people who agreed with me could see that crazy glint in my eye.

Dang. Now what was I supposed to do?

Trying to temper a political rant with humor won’t work — aside from the aforementioned humor deficit in which everyone seems to be wallowing, some of my current topics simply aren’t anything to joke at or around. For a variety of reasons, my days covering food and drink are gone. This means I’m stuck sharing my opinion on other stuff, like politics. (Trust me, you don’t want to hear my opinion on things like celebrities, mountain climbing or freeway driving in Oregon.)

If I can’t weigh in on the big political topics in a humorous or lighthearted fashion, then I must sprinkle my rants with pieces on lesser subjects — essays that are self-deprecating, humorous, easy-going and maybe even a little insightful, just not mentioning things that make people hit each other or storm government buildings. I am confident I can do this. Well, maybe not the insightful part.

But let’s get serious for a moment, I promise not to rant.

Both sides of the aisle seem to be increasingly committed to self-segregation, a state indescribably unhealthy for a functional democracy. At some point over the last year or ten, we started believing the hyperbolic insults we were hurling at each other. Trash-talk has always been a part of politics yet I am deeply worried by the number of people who fervently believe all conservatives are ignorant racist bigots and all progressives are anti-American baby-killers — I hear both of these terms used earnestly and frequently by people I know and respect. I cannot overstate this: such pejorative terms should be used with great restraint, not as a careless and common part of our political discourse.

Since it has become fashionable by both red and blue Kool-Aid-drinkers to respond to calls for unity by piously stating, “you have no right to ask me to embrace someone who hates my very essence” or some such breathless overstatement, I’m not. I am not suggesting either side embrace, accept, enjoy or otherwise tolerate anyone who actually despises them. But all those folks who aren’t hateful bigots or pinko baby-killers are a different matter. Reasonable people who happen to disagree with you on an issue or two should be respected as fellow Americans who once upon a time didn’t mind that not everyone thought exactly the same way. Once we lose our uniquely American respect for our varied perspectives, we won’t get it back.

As I fumble about trying to regain any reputation but a crazy-angry one, it’s a good time to remember we need to cut each other a little slack in matters of opinion. This is exponentially more important now that we’ve become dependent on social media where the nuance of tone and subtle body language are lacking to temper our messages. Without these cues, I know I often come across more severely than I intended. No amount of emojis, LOLs, LOLOLs or LMAOs can convey whatever affable-but-probably-sarcastic temper lurked behind the words I wrote that wound up causing angst.

For me, food and booze are out while rice cakes and ranting are in. But I promise to be a little more understanding of whoever I’m criticizing and a bit less mocking in my critical tone. If I don’t, you can be sure I’ll remember my own advice to divorce myself from my own perspective long enough to determine you’re beginning to believe I’m a crank.

Oh, who am I kidding? You never stopped thinking that, did you?

I just shot him


“Oh, shit! I just shot him!”

Do you get it now? All of you who badmouth and mock the people who believe Black lives matter, do you understand why Black people are no longer staying silent and taking it on the chin? No, probably not. I don’t expect even the events of this week could move you to take a stand for Black lives.

Because I know many of you like to add an “only,” thereby completely and selfishly changing the message to one of twisted superiority, allow me to point out the statement “Black lives matter” is simply a reminder to those who need to hear it. Sadly, there are there a lot of you. So if you must add a word, please make it “too.” As in “Black lives matter, too.”

I’m not talking about an organization. When I say “Black lives matter,” I refer to what should be a universal element of human relationship — we’re all human beings so why should our worth be tied to the color of our skin? It shouldn’t, but I am ashamed so many of you retreat into that defensive white preservation posture the moment you hear someone proclaim that Black lives matter. You know what? Black lives do matter.

This week painted what may be the most vivid picture yet of exactly why some of us must take a specific stand for Black lives. When a young Black man can be “accidentally” killed by “very senior” training officer Kimberly A. Potter who is unable to tell the difference between her service weapon and her Taser, people like me get angry. The video demonstrating the panicked incompetence of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota law enforcement personnel as they fumbled about trying to arrest 20-year-old Daunte Wright was almost unbelievable, considering it took place just minutes from the courthouse holding the trial for the infamous murder of another unarmed Black man. When the world’s attention is focused on your area as it conducts the trial for the murder of George Floyd, you’d think police would be on their most professionally restrained behavior.


Was it worth it, Brooklyn Center police? Reportedly, you stopped Wright for an expired tag or the air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror but then you discovered he had a misdemeanor warrant so you decided to try to arrest him. Unfortunately, three fully-kitted Brooklyn Center police officers were unable to subdue an evidently sober, unarmed man who looked like he weighed about a hundred pounds. And when he panicked and tried to flee, you panicked and killed him.

Over a misdemeanor and an expired tag or a stupid air freshener.

I guess “law enforcement” is taken with a particularly deadly gravity in Brooklyn Center. Jaywalkers get five-to-ten, right? I know, I know, it was just an accident. Anybody could’ve done it. Sorry, but it’s not just an accident when you are given the power of life and death and you misuse that power. When I screw something up, no one dies.

If the bumbling incompetence of Minnesota’s finest hadn’t resulted in the death of yet another young Black man, it would’ve been eclipsed by the dull-witted screaming of the rubes who play police officer in Windsor, Virginia. This time, the unarmed Black man they assaulted and humiliated was as innocent as innocent gets.

Actually, innocent doesn’t do U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario justice. Nazario, who is Black and Latin, was returning from drill duties with the medical corps when Windsor police officer Joe Gutierrez and an unidentified officer had trouble seeing the temporary license paper legally and appropriately taped in the rear window of his new Chevrolet Tahoe. As a Black man who has abundant reason to be leery of law enforcement, Nazario turned on his four-way flashers and slowly drove to the closest well-lighted area, which happened to be beneath the canopy of a nearby gas station.

This caution apparently infuriated Gutierrez, who escalated a simple traffic stop — a stop initiated over no violation — into a guns-drawn felony-level stop, exactly the sort of situation Nazario was trying to avoid. Screaming at Nazario, the police officers seemed utterly out of control, a state contrasted by the very careful calm of Nazario. When a Black man who happens to be a commissioned officer in the U.S. military is treated like an animal by enraged redneck cops, it is almost physically painful to watch. That these bumpkins with guns and badges are allowed the authority of life and death over honorable men like Nazario is sickening.

“I’m honestly afraid to get out of the car,” Nazario said, his hands held up in supplication.

“Yeah,” Gutierrez shot back. “You should be.” What a professional.

“I’m serving this country and this is how I’m treated?” asked Nazario calmly. “What’s going on?”

“What’s going on is you’re fixing to ride the lightning, son,” Gutierrez screamed back.

It got worse when the out-of-control Gutierrez pepper-sprayed Nazario. I was disgusted to see these two cops acting like, well, pigs. Yes, they behaved like pigs. The calm man in the car being detained should never be the one carefully asking the police to calm down. Gutierrez and his partner unnecessarily escalated this situation to one that could easily have ended like the ones in Minnesota.

Maybe the worst part came at the end when things had calmed down and Gutierrez seemed to be having second thoughts about his awful conduct. Then, Gutierrez the pot-bellied hick had the chutzpah to lecture Nazario the dignified soldier. In a sane world, the erudite army lieutenant would’ve been lecturing the doofus cop.

The Windsor incident occurred in December 2020 but didn’t receive widespread media attention until Nazario filed suit against both officers on April 2 in U.S. District Court. Of course, Virginia’s attorney general jumped aboard the bandwagon on Monday when he announced an investigation into patterns or practices of unlawful conduct at Windsor P.D.

Like clockwork, the resignations and firings in both incidents began.

Brooklyn Center’s Potter and Chief of Police Tim Gannon have resigned. Windsor’s Gutierrez was fired but the unidentified officer with him and Chief of Police Rodney Daniel Riddle remain — many are calling for their termination. But aside from these appropriate firings and resignations, why are we hiring these people in the first place? Why aren’t we considering measures that would minimize the risk of hiring morons and, failing that, making sure they didn’t get re-hired by another jurisdiction after a previous for-cause firing?

People close to me wear badges — I am no stranger to the difficulties facing law enforcement today. It is probably the most difficult, thankless job on the planet at the moment. But I’d be naive to believe that much of law enforcement’s difficulties weren’t self-inflicted when police agencies emphasized arming over training, control over de-escalation, a sense of power over a sense of community. More broadly, waiting for the powder keg to explode before listening to the concerns of the Black community might have been the worst blunder of all.

No young Black male can be criticized for being afraid of a simple traffic stop. Not when kids can be shot for an expired tag, when a dad can be asphyxiated for a crappy misdemeanor, or a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army can be treated worse than a dog. I could list dozens of other examples.

So I ask again: do you get it now? Do you understand why Black people are angry? Do you understand why Black mothers are worried sick about their sons? No, I didn’t think so.

To serve and to profile


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.