We all know one of the favorite rallying cries of a certain section of the US population is BUT HER EMAILS. They know they can’t possibly excuse the bad behavior by their own, so they engage in deflection: Hillary’s emails, Bill’s blowjob, Obama’s deportations, Biden’s … everything. As we found out this past Sunday in an OWH article by Todd Cooper, Steve LeClair and his attorneys decided to deploy that deflection on behalf of LeClair , who was fired in February of 2019 for shoving a black woman and saying “white power” after she repeatedly refused his advances in a bar. According to the LeClair’s attorneys, he should be reinstated because back in 2013 a police sergeant in the Omaha Police Department wasn’t fired after he used the term “n—– knocker” in referring to his baton while training a group of rookie cops that included a black woman. That cop was suspended for 10 days and “eventually” demoted from sergeant to officer.
Anyway, their argument is that because that cop was not fired, we should just let LeClair slide and give him his job back as long as he promises not to assault any more black women while whispering “white power” in their ear. LeClair’s attorneys argue that his record shows he is “not racist” so I guess they forgot to include the time he assaulted a black woman while whispering “white power” at her in his record. They claim LeClair just meant to “nudge” her. While saying “white power” in her ear. They claim he only said “white power” in her ear “in a clumsy attempt to point out the diversity in the bar crowd that night”, whatever the hell that means.
Todd Cooper and the OWH went to the trouble of reviewing 61 other cases of shitty behavior by public employees who were not fired for their shitty behavior over the last 20 years. Sixty one!! Among those 61 cases were incidents of domestic violence, child abuse, threats to shoot up a college, and repeated racist comments in the workplace. So we definitely have a problem, but the problem is not what these guys think it is. The problem is that the city of Omaha sucks at addressing shitty behavior by their employees. Mayor Stothert and I have wildly differing views literally everything else, but I’ve got to agree with her on this one. There is absolutely no way Steve LeClair should ever be reinstated. In fact, the city should immediately commit to doing a better job of holding their employees accountable for their actions.
In 2010, a firefighter asked a woman of color who was studying to be a firefighter if she would be offended if someone called her a “n—–“. In another case, two firefighters repeatedly defecated in the women’s restroom at the fire station because a black female firefighter was advocating for affirmative action. So, yes, it is messed up that LeClair was fired and the other racists weren’t, but not in the way LeClair and the Omaha fire union are asserting. The Omaha Fire Department clearly has a racism and misogyny problem that historically has not been properly addressed.
It’s not just the city that should be working on fixing this problem. Unions have a long and mixed history with race. Many of them reinforced the racism of US society. But some, like the UAW, actively wrestled with racial discrimination, both with the bosses (eventually winning an early anti-discrimination clause in their contract with Ford) and within their own ranks. In doing so, unions like the UAW showed true solidarity, making getting the raises and respect for those who work hard in tough jobs their number one goal, regardless of whether those workers were black or white. Fire fighters do serious, dangerous work on our behalf and they deserve to be paid well and given respect– and the union makes sure that happens. But if the union starts being used as a shield to protect racist behavior, it does the opposite of create respect and it betrays the solidarity all workers should have with each other in fighting for fair treatment in an economy that’s rigged against them. The union needs to clean up its own house and commit to higher standards going forward.
If there is any question that Nebraska has a long way to go in addressing our diversity problem, we refer you back to the treatment endured by Dr. Ferial Pearson while on her mission to spread empathy and kindness across the state. Let us also not forget that time Seeing Red called out a reporter for his sexist reporting, and that same reporter was later arrested for sexual assault. It’s not like any of these men are even trying to keep anything a secret. It’s time to start holding them accountable.