Stoning a Cop
So, about this week’s big story, Councilmember Randall Stone publicly accusing a Chico police officer of racism and homophobia… We have decided to add our two cents to the discussion, despite the likelihood that regardless of our conclusion, one or more rogue Council members will resume accusing us of inciting, or at a minimum embracing, racism. For the record, we abhor hate speech in all its forms; however, we passionately defend an individual’s right to express unpopular views to the extent it is protected by the First Amendment.
(If you haven’t kept up with the Stone vs Boothe story, links to media articles and local blogs are provided at the end of this post.)
To begin with, we neither support nor condemn Officer Boothe. We don’t know him, and it is not our place to judge his fitness for duty. It is also not the media’s place, or even the citizens’ place, until after all internal fact finding is complete and the City’s personnel procedures have been followed. We don’t know enough about the cop shop to even have an opinion as to whether or not Boothe’s private Facebook activity can be introduced into the official investigation. What we do know is that personnel matters are among the very few City procedures that are confidential, and they are therefore not subject to the public records act. So, on that point, we remain neutral.
What we wholly condemn is Stone shamelessly compromising that process out of some bizarre need for public retaliation and self-aggrandizement. His status as a Councilmember permits him virtually unlimited access to a bully pulpit, and he has abused the power of his office by identifying Boothe as a police officer and then making damning statements about him to the television and print media. Trial by public opinion will ruin this cop’s reputation to such an extent that even if he is fully exonerated, the spectre of the accusations will follow him wherever he goes. That is unacceptable. Period.
That’s not to say we haven’t formulated an opinion of Boothe as an individual. We think that at best, he is either technologically challenged and can’t figure out how to work Facebook’s privacy settings, or not politically savvy enough to realize how damaging those photos could be to his reputation; at worst, he may actually be a racist and a homophobe. We just don’t know. We haven’t searched the web to find what he posted, because truthfully, his personal views are none of our business. Having said that, this should serve as a good reminder to us all to carefully consider what we share on social media. What may seem humorous today can come back to haunt us later. Boothe is learning this lesson the hard way, as many have before him.
But, here’s the rub: As a private individual, Boothe has a right to express his personal views, whether Stone likes them or not. Protecting unpopular speech is at the core of the First Amendment. As a private individual, he also has an unfettered right to criticize elected government official Stone without fear of being publicly crucified in retaliation.
There is a glaring difference between elected government official Stone publicly labeling Officer Boothe a racist cop, sans any investigation into the facts or regard for his right to due process, and Joe Citizen accusing Boothe of being a racist and demanding an investigation.
What makes this incident even more despicable is Stone’s position as the Council appointee to the Chico Police Advisory Board. He is either fully aware of Boothe’s rights and protections under the City’s personnel rules and willfully chose to circumvent them in favor of pursuing his own agenda, or he is indisputably unqualified to sit on that Board and should be removed immediately.
This type of retaliatory behavior has become entirely too common among members of the current Council. The current city manager has convinced these elected officials that they operate as a board of directors, and as a result, they behave as though they are corporate bigwigs rather than servants of the public.
While we are not condoning Boothe’s personal behavior, we have tremendous empathy for the damage Stone has caused to his reputation. We, too, have felt the effects of public condemnation as a result of this Council’s inexcusable reaction to criticism.
Because we had the audacity to speak out against the current city manager, this Council, led by Mayor Gruendl, launched an all-out public assault on our personal and professional reputations. They used their bully pulpit at the dais, held press conferences, showed our home addresses to a television crew, ranted on social media, and made outrageous accusations that our free speech was the cause of physical and emotional harm, racism, and threats of violence. As if that were not enough, the Mayor actually threatened to release ‘embarrassing information’ from our personnel records.
That feels horrible. Even though we knew before we began speaking out against the city manager there would be a price to pay, we never imagined that price would be personal and professional attacks from the Council. But because we weren’t cops, the long-term effects on our livelihood are likely to be minimal, and our families will not be forced to endure lifelong stigma as a result of the unfounded accusations.
Officer Boothe’s consequences will be much more severe. He and his family will undoubtedly pay dearly over the course of their lives for Stone’s public assault on his reputation. Accusations of racism against a cop cannot simply be rescinded as if they were never made. People are generally quick to remember an accusation, because it is so inflammatory, but far less likely to remember the exoneration, which may not even make the front page of the local paper. The accusation is all over the media. It is all over the internet. It can’t just be taken back. Words have power.
And so, when it is all said and done, we are very angry about this situation and ask, who will hold Stone accountable? Who will investigate him to determine whether he violated this cop’s civil rights? Even if Boothe is ultimately found guilty of racist writings, where are Stone’s consequences for his petty and ruthless behavior? Two wrongs will never make this right; in fact, the second wrong makes a complete mockery of the concept of elected officials as public servants.
These overt attempts to bully and intimidate individuals in order to stifle or retaliate for free speech must be stopped. Stone and the rest of this unprincipled, self-serving Council must be held accountable.
The next person targeted for criticizing them could be you, or someone you love. These people work for you, so don’t let them forget it. We urge you to attend and speak out at Council meetings, write letters to the editors, write letters to the Council, and please do your civic duty and VOTE! Elections have consequences.
As promised, here are some links to media pieces and local blogs about this story:
Action News Now (November 11, 2013): Chico City Council Member Accuses Police Officer of Racism
Action News Now (November 12, 2013): Police Chief Angry “Racism” Investigation is Public
KRCR-TV (November 12, 2013): Councilman accuses police officer of having racial material
Mike Maloney Musings (November 12, 2013): Randall Stone(r), Incompetence and Racism
Chico Enterprise Record (November 13, 2013): Chico police officer’s Facebook photos, comments spur department investigation
Chico Enterprise Record (November 14, 2013): Editorial: Officer’s online posts imprudent
Chico News & Review (November 14, 2013): Opinions: Police drama
Chico Taxpayer’s Association (November 14, 2013): Thanks to Randall Stone for shedding light on some cockroaches. See how they run!
Clearly there are very strong views on this story. And Officer Boothe sits by silently, while he is tried in the court of public opinion. Councilmember Stone, we have one word for you: Disgusting!
Thank you for your continued readership. As always, your questions and comments are welcome.