how we got here

It’s Sunday, and this morning there are a LOT of quick, simplistic, really bad takes on the police murder of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. I’m actually pretty much okay with that. This is a situation that calls for immediate outrage, and that inevitably lead to quick, simplistic, bad takes. Right now, outrage first is a valid response.

The good thing about almost all of these quick, simplistic, bad takes is they do actually focus on the source of the problem: police culture. People are asking, “How did we get here?” Which is a good question. A complex question with a really complex answer. Because we’re talking about the intersection of multiple areas of concern.

I’m going to talk about four of them: 1) The wrong sorts of people are joining the police, and they’re joining for the wrong reasons. 2) Police officers are trained to assume guilt and danger. 3) Police officers aren’t bound by a duty of care. 3) The doctrine of qualified immunity protects bad police officers and undermines community trust in the police.

(photo by Erik McGregor)

The wrong sorts of people are joining the police, and they’re joining for the wrong reasons. Occupational studies suggest that until around the late 1960s and early 1970s, most of the people who joined the police did so for three pretty basic reasons. It was 1) an interesting job that offered a lot of diverse activities in a non-office/shop/factory setting, 2) it was a good union job that offered decent pay, excellent benefits, opportunities for advancement, and a reliable retirement plan, and 3) it was a way to help people and serve the community.

That last reason seems hard to believe now, but it was generally true. People joined the police because they liked the idea of helping people.

Why did that change? Lots of inter-related reasons, including the social upheaval of the late 1960s, which was the fallout from recreational drug use, the war in Vietnam, and growing alienation with consumer culture. One of the less obvious reasons was this: television.

Early cop shows (like Dragnet, Naked City, Highway Patrol, M Squad) showed police officers and detectives dutifully doing their job and–and this is key–doing it within the confines of the law. Television cops rarely lied (to suspects, to judges, to their superiors), rarely fabricated evidence, rarely threatened or intimidated people to get information, and they almost never shot anybody. They just followed the evidence and caught the bad guy.

In the 1970s, cop shows changed. The ‘rogue’ cop became fashionable. Shows like Baretta, Starsky and Hutch, Miami Vice, NYPD Blue, The Shield featured police officers–usually detectives–who bent the law to get ‘bad guys’ off the street. There were crazy-ass car chases, cops kicking in doors, cops making threats, cops harassing and intimidating bad guys (and sometimes ordinary citizens who got in the way), cops lying to get around the law, cops committing crimes to catch criminals, a LOTS of cops shooting and killing LOTS of bad guys.

The new shows were more exciting. An unintended consequence of those shows is that they attracted a different sort of police candidate. Fewer people joined because it was a good union job, more people joined because they wanted to kick in doors; fewer people joined because of the excellent benefits, more joined because they thought car chases were cool; fewer people joined because they wanted to help the community, more joined because they wanted excitement. These are NOT the qualities you want in a police force.

Police officers are trained to assume guilt and danger. The operative assumption of guilt is baked into police training. For their own protection, police officers are trained to assume the people they interact with are probably guilty of something. This keeps the officers alert, which is a good thing. It also keeps them suspicious and anxious, which isn’t. It leads officers to perceive danger where no danger actually exists. This also applies to situations as well as people. If you chase somebody into an alley or behind a house, you have to assume that every shadow could hide somebody who wants to hurt you. Being surrounded by presumably guilty people in presumably dangerous places shapes the way you see and interact with the world–and not just when you’re on duty.

Because of the proliferation of guns in the US, the operative assumption of guilt and danger is heightened. It’s more real. Police officers are more at risk now. They respond to that risk by being more aggressive and more suspicious, which leads to more resentment from the populace, which leads to more risk for the police officers, which leads to…well, you see where this is going.

Police officers aren’t bound by a duty of care. All those early cop shows? They emphasized what’s known as a duty of care. Basically, a duty of care simply means being responsible for the health, safety, and well-being of other people. There’s a legal definition of that phrase, and like all legal definitions, it’s deliberately narrow and primarily involves liability for injuries to others. You know, like if you leave a bunch of power tools lying around in a day care center where curious kids could hurt themselves or other kids. You have a legal duty of care not to do shit like that.

In many nations, policing agencies have a duty of care explicitly spelled out as part of the job. The police have a positive ethical obligation to avoid acts that could foreseeably harm others. That means putting the safety of the public before everything else, including the safety of the police officers. The public, by the way, includes people suspected or accused of crimes.

In the US, police have NO formal duty of care to protect members of the public (unless they’re in custody). Seriously, neither the Constitution, nor state law, impose a general duty upon police officers or other governmental officials to protect individuals from harm, even if they know the harm will occur. As a result, police officers often put their own safety above the safety of others. We saw that in Uvalde, Texas.

The absence of a duty of care also means police officers are more inclined to shoot early in situations, and to shoot a lot. That inclination is encouraged by the next issue.

The doctrine of qualified immunity protects bad police officers and undermines community trust in the police. Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine granting police officers (well, all government officials) immunity from civil suits UNLESS the officer violated “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”

What in the popcorn fuck does that mean? It means police officers who do awful stuff are protected from civil and criminal prosecution IF 1) they can testify they believed in good faith that the awful stuff was lawful and objectively reasonable, and 2) they’re unaware of a “clearly established” law saying that specific awful stuff was illegal. Only one of those factors has to hold in order for qualified immunity to apply.

Here’s an example: back in 2014, in Coffee County, Georgia, a deputy sheriff named Michael Vickers was searching for a robbery suspect. He and other officers found the suspect, Christopher Barnett, talking to a woman in her yard. Half a dozen kids were also in the yard. The officers demanded they all get on the ground, including the kids. Everyone immediately complied. At that point, Bruce, the family dog, came into the yard to see what the fuss was. Although the dog wasn’t threatening anybody, Vickers fired at him…and missed. Bruce ran away. Moments later, Bruce returned, the way dogs do. Vickers fired at him again. And missed again. But this time the bullet struck a ten-year-old child in the leg. The kid’s family sued Vickers. The court ruled he was immune from the suit.

Why? Because 1) Vickers thought he was behaving within the limits of the law by shooting at the dog, and 2) even if shooting at an innocent dog WAS illegal, there was no “clearly established” law STATING shooting at a dog and missing, thereby accidentally shooting a kid was illegal. In fact, Vickers could theoretically shoot at another dog and miss and accidentally wound another kid and get by with it because there’s no law specifically stating that’s against the law. I’m not making this up; this is how this shit really works.

When the wrong people enter policing for the wrong reasons, and they’re taught to be suspicious and aggressive, and they’re not required to consider the safety of the people they’re sworn to protect, and they’re rarely held personally accountable for their bad behavior, you create a policing culture that encourages pre-emptive, sustained violence.

We need to change every deeply ingrained aspect of that culture. Sadly, even if the US has the commitment to do that (and I rather doubt we do), it will take time. But we can start by taking three small common sense steps. Radically modify qualified immunity (it would be better to eliminate it from policing, but you know…baby steps). Codify a duty of care into policing. Reduce police officers to a subordinate support role in mental health situations, and create more mental health response teams staffed by trained mental health professionals. It would also help to present sensible firearm legislation as being pro-police.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Obviously, race plays a huge role in police violence. Huge. Why didn’t I address that? Because lots of other folks are addressing it, and this is already a really really long blog post.

workin’ in the house of maga

It’s the fourth day of the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and it’s astonishing to witness just how much stupid, horrific shit they’ve managed to spread in that short time. There’s the big, obvious stupid, horrific shit–like the stupid, horrific new House Committee on the Weaponization of Government, or the stupid, horrific way they’ve gutted the Office of Congressional Ethics just as they’re examining the Members of Congress who refused to honor the subpoenas issued by the Jan. 6 committee. But the House of MAGA has also given some attention to smaller and less obvious stupid, horrific shit.

For example, they went to the bother of changing the name of the House Committee on Education and Labor. It’s now called the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Why, you ask, would they change ‘labor’ to ‘workforce’? Because changing the name complies with the House of MAGA’s prime directive: piss off the libs.

“Hey, good news! We’re no longer laborers! Now we’re part of a workforce!”

The Chair of the new House Committee on Education & the Workforce is Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. Rep. Foxx has a long Congressional history of being stupid and horrific. Back in 2005, she voted against the aid package for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. She claimed the murder of Matthew Shepard was “a very unfortunate incident” but not a hate crime (“We know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn’t because he was gay“). She opposed Obamacare, saying “We have more to fear from the potential of the Affordable Health Care Act passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country.” She voted against Comrade Trump’s impeachment twice. She was one of the Members of Congress who opposed the certification of the 2020 vote. And she opposes all abortion, even in the case of rape, incest, or the health of the mother.

The House of MAGA; The Intersection of Stupid and Horrific.

Rep. Foxx, in her role as Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, offered an explanation for the change in name.

“‘Labor’ is an antiquated term that excludes individuals who contribute to the American workforce but aren’t classified as conventional employees. ‘Labor’ also carries a negative connotation that ignores the dignity of work; the term is something out of a Marxist textbook…. The Left prefers the term labor because it creates a sense of enmity between employees and employers which union bosses and left-wing activists seek to stoke for political gain…. Though the Left likes to treat employers like predators, we know that most job creators have their employees’ best interests in mind”

See, the ‘Left’ is only interested in workers the workforce for political gain, which is unAmerican and unpatriotic and therefore wrong. Employers, on the other hand, are only interested in financial gain, which is very American and patriotic and therefore right. Okay, maybe worker productivity rose more than 60% over the last forty years while worker workforce pay rose less than 18% (after adjusting for inflation). But hey, they’ve still got plenty of that ‘dignity of work’ to keep them happy, right? Where’s the dignity in ‘labor‘?

Also? Workforce sounds like they could be a team of Marvel superheroes. Isn’t that as good as money? Would Workforce America! ™ ask for safe working conditions? Hah!

Over the next two years we can expect to see much more stupid, horrific stuff across every scale of government. They hope we will be numbed by the barrage of stupid, horrific stuff. There’s a danger they could be right.

cool down papa, don’t you blow your top

The buzzard told the monkey you are choking me.
Release your hold and i will set you free.
The monkey looked the buzzard right dead in the eye,
And said your story’s so touching, but it sounds just like a lie.

Irving Mills / Nat king cole

Two scenarios:

Scenario One: President Uncle Joe Biden’s lawyers, while going through files in an office in a private policy institute Uncle Joe used in the period between being Vice President and President, come across two files that appear to be classified. They notify the Department of Justice and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and return the documents without being asked. The Attorney General immediately appoints a prosecutor to investigate. (Edit: apparently there were ten documents, not two.)

Scenario Two: President Comrade Trump has multiple highly classified documents transferred to his home, which is shared with a public venue. Four months later, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) asks for the return of those documents. Trump returns two dozen boxes of material, including some of the classified documents. NARA informs Trump that they’re still missing some documents, and ask him to return the rest of the material he took from the White House. Seven months later, Trump returns another dozen boxes of material. A year after Trump left office, NARA informs Trump he STILL hasn’t returned all the documents. The Department of Justice is notified. Sixteen months after Trump left office, the DOJ issues a subpoena for the return of those documents. Trump claims he’s returned everything. Eighteen months after leaving office, a federal judge issues a warrant for the FBI to search and seize the still-missing documents. They find nearly 200 classified documents, including some labeled TS/SCI (which are so secret they’re only to be read in a secure room in which no cameras or recording devices are allowed). In total, around 13,000 documents Trump wasn’t allowed to take are recovered from Mar-a-Lago. The Attorney General appoints a prosecutor to investigate the matter 23 months after Trump removed the documents.

The News Media: Both Trump and Biden in possession of classified documents! Prosecutor to investigate!

Attorney General Merrick Garland hears Trump’s attorneys.

This is absolute bullshit, of course. Biden and his lawyers acted properly. They discovered the two documents, notified the appropriate agencies, and acknowledged the mistake. Trump did the exact opposite. He deliberately removed thousands of documents, he and his lawyers resisted returning them, lied about them, and the FBI was forced to go to Mar-a-Lago in order to retrieve them.

Attorney General Merrick Garland delayed ordering a prosecutor to investigate Trump’s handling of classified documents for nearly two years, but immediately ordered one to investigate Biden’s handling of them. Why? To appear non-partisan. To avoid giving MAGA Republicans a reason to claim the DOJ is unfair. As if MAGA Republicans have any interest in Fact or Truth. MAGA Republicans will, of course, claim the two scenarios are exactly the same.

The only question is whether the news media will have the integrity to report this matter accurately. And sadly, I think we know the answer to that. Is there anything we can do about it?

Nope, not really. And let’s face it, there are more equally stupid but far more critical issues we’ll be dealing with in the very near future. In this on particular case, maybe we should consider the advice of Nat King Cole: “Cool down papa don’t you blow your top.”

don’t shit in the swimming pool

Okay, here’s an analogy. Twitter is a swimming pool. A large pool, an Olympic-sized pool. It’s privately owned, but open to the public.

People come. Some just want to splash around, some want to swim laps, some just want to hang out poolside, some want to train for a swim meet, some want to cannonball into the pool and make a big splash, some want to practice diving. It’s a big pool, so even if some jackass is playing Nickleback on a bluetooth speaker instead of using headphones, you can move to the other end where it’s less annoying. It’s far from perfect, but you still come because it’s the biggest pool around and all your friends hang out there.

The pool has a few loose rules. You break the rules, you can get your ass booted out of the pool. One of the fundamental rules: Keep Litter Out of the Pool. Nobody wants to swim in a pool that has old candy wrappers and cigarette butts floating around in it.

That’s Old Twitter. New Twitter is different.

New Twitter is owned by a rich, arrogant, bone-ignorant narcissist who thought it would be fun to own his own swimming pool. To save money, he’s fired the concession stand workers, the maintenance workers, and the lifeguards. He also feels some folks who’ve been evicted for littering were treated unfairly. He feels they contribute to the swimming pool community, that perhaps the litter makes swimming more challenging and immediately vital.

So he’s re-invited them back.

Now, feeling vindicated for littering, they’re gleefully shitting in the pool.

And the new owner suggests folks who are reluctant to swim in the pool now aren’t really committed to swimming.

paint over the second amendment

You know what? Fuck the Second Amendment. Oh, it was a perfectly fine amendment when it was written, but c’mon, it was written in 1789 (it was ratified a couple years later, in 1791). That was a long time ago. Things have changed. That’s the nature of things, isn’t it. They just change.

Look, the US Constitution has been amended 27 times. Why? Because things change. Because stuff that made sense at one point in time doesn’t necessarily make sense at another. Because even smart, reasonable, concerned people sometimes make a mistake or do something stupid. I mean, back in 1917 it must have seemed reasonable to amend the Constitution to prohibit the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors. But a decade and a half later, the American people thought “Lawdy, we fucked that up” and they had to repeal the entire 18th Amendment.

We can do that again, only with the Second Amendment. We could just repeal it. Or rewrite it so it’s not so fucking stupid. The 18th Amendment probably saved a bunch of lives by making it a lot more difficult to get drunk. But we’ve been able to find a somewhat reasonable balance between saving lives and being able to have a decent merlot with our supper.

We can do the same thing with guns. We really can. We can shitcan the 2nd Amendment. Hell, Thomas Jefferson (who knew a lot about writing Constitutions) kinda thought we could scrap the whole entire Constitution every couple of decades and cobble together a new and more timely one. You know, a Constitution that met modern needs. Seriously, Jefferson said, “The earth belongs always to the living generation.” Ain’t no reason for us to be locked into something written by folks 230 plus years ago.

Here’s what Jefferson wrote to James Madison in September of 1789:

[I]t may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, & what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, & consequently may govern them as they please. But persons & property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors extinguished then in their natural course, with those who gave them being. This could preserve that being till it ceased to be itself, & no longer. Every constitution then, & every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, & not of right.

And yes, usufruct is an actual word. It refers to the temporary legal right to use and enjoy the fruits or profits of something belonging to another. It’s from the Latin usus (meaning ‘use’) and fructus (meaning ‘fruit’). Let’s say your daddy dies and leaves you everything, including the house you grew up in, BUT because your daddy is a complete asshole, he stipulates the woman he divorced your momma for can continue to live in the house as long as she wants. It’s legally your house now, but your asshole dad’s girlfriend still gets to enjoy it. If she wants to paint the walls red, she damned well can, even if you think it’s a bad idea. Usufruct.

What Jefferson is saying is that the next generation can enjoy the Constitution their parents left for them but they’re not locked into it forever. When your asshole dad’s girlfriend dies (yeah, this is a metaphor), you get control of the house and you can repaint the walls.

What Jefferson was saying is this: we can paint over the 2nd Amendment. We can and we should. Because the walls have been red way too long.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Five people were killed and at least 18 were wounded/injured last night during a drag show at Club Q in Colorado Springs. Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, the annual event honoring the memory of transgender people killed by acts of anti-transgender violence.

We shouldn’t have to live like this.

a regular intruder drill

“We thought it was just a regular intruder drill. But when we started hearing sirens outside and the teachers started to even get scared, then we knew that this wasn’t just a regular drill and it was real.”

A regular intruder drill. Three people, including the shooter, are dead. But students thought it was just one of their regular intruder drills. At least eight people have been transported to local hospitals. So, NOT just a regular intruder drill.

The fact that a high school in St. Louis, Missouri even HAS regular intruder drills is an indictment of US politics. It’s an indictment of the Republican Party. It’s an indictment of American gun culture. But given the horrific reality that there have been at least 545 mass shootings THIS YEAR in the US, then yeah, regular intruder drills are probably needed. Because the GOP is sure as fuck not going to let anybody do anything about the guns.

The GOP and the NRA will argue we need to arm teachers. The St. Louis school had SEVEN security officers INSIDE the school, but some 20-year-old asshole still managed to wander in toting some sort of long gun (and will anybody be surprised if we learn it was some AR-15 variant?). But hey, most of the 545 mass shootings this year DID NOT take place at schools. Maybe we also need to arm cashiers at the supermarkets. Maybe we need to arm receptionists and the kid who puts your burrito together and the person who passes the collection plate at church. Because guns make us safe?

Following the shooting, the mayor, Tishaura Jones, texted “Help us, Jesus.” Jesus ain’t gonna help us. You might as well call on Thor to help us. Prayer doesn’t do shit to stop a bullet. But you can be assured the GOP will be calling for thoughts and prayers, and holding out their hands for the NRA to donate to their campaigns.

You know what would help? Making it harder to buy guns. That would help. Making it illegal to wander around the streets openly carrying a rifle or shotgun, that would help. Open carry of long guns in public is completely unregulated in Missouri. This shooter would have been legally able to walk right up the school doors openly toting his gun, and that would be just fine with the GOP. That’s just fucking crazy, right there.

Even if the US Congress passed some minimal firearm legislation (which, hey, they did), it wouldn’t help. Why? Because in 2021 the Missouri GOP passed what they called the Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA). This specifically prohibits state and local law enforcement officials from enforcing federal gun policies. Hell, SAPA even punishes state and local police officers for trying to enforce federal gun laws.

In fact, more than 1,200 jurisdictions (state, county, municipal) in 37 states have adopted some form of resolution or law restricting local law enforcement from enforcing federal laws IF they feel those laws violate the Second Amendment. Want to guess which political party pushed for that?

Republicans are simply willing to sacrifice children to protect the gun lobby’s shaky interpretation of an amendment written 230 years ago. An amendment written at a time when there were no police and no standing army in the US. A time when there was open conflict between settlers and the native peoples whose territory they were intruding upon. A time when the most common firearms were muskets capable of firing a single round (maybe three rounds per minute) and with a maximum accuracy range of around 50 yards.

If the St. Louis shooter had an AR-15 variant, even without any training, he could easily fire at least 30 rounds per minute, probably closer to 60, with a lot more accuracy. The Second Amendment, as it was written in 1791, simply doesn’t address modern killing tech.

What happened in St. Louis today wasn’t a regular intruder drill. Sadly, it was just a regular school shooting, around the 40th school shooting this year (we average about one a week–and let me just say that again, this year we averaged about one school shooting every fucking week). Unless a couple more people die, it’s not even a mass murder.

It’s just another day in America.

a few true things

Here’s a true thing: back in 2019, a Chinese ‘businesswoman’ named Yujing Zhang was caught wandering around Mar-a-Lago carrying some unidentified electronic equipment and two different passports. She was eventually stopped by a random receptionist.

Another true thing: a woman calling herself Anna de Rothschild showed up at Mar-a-Lago driving a $170,000 Mercedes. She visited the resort often, attended several ‘functions’, and was photographed larking about with both Sen. Lindsey Graham and Comrade Trump his ownself. We now know her name is Inna Yashchyshyn; a Russian-speaking Ukrainian immigrant.

These women almost certainly weren’t spies. They were probably just grifters. But the fact that they were able to infiltrate and roam around Mar-a-Lago shows how shoddy the security was. And probably still is. I’m talking about the security of the facility itself. The security of the former president is handled by the Secret Service; their only concern about the resort is how it affects Trump’s physical safety. They’re bodyguards, not counter intelligence operatives.

Comrade Trump, Comrade Graham, and ‘Anna de Rothschild’

Here’s another true thing: we only learn about the incompetent spies, or the spies who are unlucky. We only hear about the spies who get caught. There are undoubtedly agents and assets of hostile (and friendly) foreign nations noodling around Mar-a-Lago. They’d be foolish NOT to be.

One more true thing: in October of last year–eight months after Comrade Trump moved to Mar-a-Lago–the CIA sent a cable to every single CIA station warning there had been a sudden a rash of CIA informants and assets in hostile countries (particularly China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan) who’d been compromised, captured, arrested, or killed. It also warned that some informants and assets may have been turned, and may now be double agents. These informants and assets were vanishing in different adversarial countries at the same time, rather than a single geographical area. That suggests it wasn’t simply a local breach in security; it suggests somebody with access to high level worldwide internal CIA operations had exposed those assets and informants. The British Security Services apparently suspected there may be a ‘super mole’ in the CIA.

And still another true thing: among the many classified documents seized at Mar-a-Lago were some labeled HSC-P and HSC-O. HSC refers to HUMINT Control System. Human intelligence. That’s spy stuff. HSC-P refers to the product of an intelligence operation–the stuff the spies learned. HSC-O refers to the operation itself. What the spies did (and possibly still are doing) to obtain the product.

Just to be clear, I’m NOT saying that CIA informants and assets were compromised and killed in hostile nations because 1) Mar-a-Lago is an attractive soft target for spies from hostile nations and 2) because Trump’s ignorance of and lack of concern about security issues made spying easier there, and 3) because highly classified documents pertaining to human intelligence operations were left in non-secure venues of Mar-a-Lago. Those things may NOT be linked at all.

It could be a coincidence.

I’m just pointing out a few true things.

more about assholes and libraries

In my last post, I wrote about assholes and Carnegie libraries. I didn’t expect this to be a theme. But this is the United States in 2022, and Comrade Trump has turned the Republican Party into a smug nationwide collective of aggressively stupid, hate-fueled, authoritarian bullies.

So, there’s a Carnegie library in the small Iowa town of Vinton, population of about 5000. Dedicated in 1908, it’s one of the smallest Carnegie libraries in the US. It operated to the benefit of the community for over a century.

That pretty much ended last week, when the library was closed. Why?

Because of assholes.

It began in May of 2020 when, Virginia Holsten, the Director of the Vinton Public Library for 35 years, resigned. She was replaced by Janette McMahon, who’d been a librarian in both Iowa and Wyoming.

You may remember that 2020 was an election year. Some library patrons complained about books written by Kamala Harris (who, by the way, had visited the Vinton Library and read from her children’s book) and Dr. Jill Biden being on display. They also complained that there weren’t enough books about Comrade Donald Trump. McMahon explained the rigorous process by which books are selected for the library. She said, “I can’t buy what doesn’t exist, and there weren’t quality books about Trump. We pay attention to reviews and publishers and our collection needs as a whole. We don’t just say what looks good on Amazon.”

Library patrons who objected to the Biden and Harris books began checking them out, then refusing to return them. In effect, they stole the books.

Eventually the attacks against the library became personal attacks against McMahon. She resigned.

In November 2021, Renee Greenlee was hired as Director. She had a long, respected career as a librarian in Iowa. She was one of the librarians given the 2022 I Love My Librarian award, which is bestowed by the American Library Association. Only ten librarians in the country win the award each year.

Vinton library patrons objected to the fact that she hired some LGBTQ staff and that there were book dealing with LGBTQ topics on display in the library. At a library board meeting, one of the patrons read a statement, saying:

It appears that there is a slow, quiet agenda moving into our local library culture through the staff hiring decisions and the books that have crept in our children’s section of the library. I don’t believe the library is representing our town well with hiring a majority of staff who are openly a part of the LGBTQ community.

Another said,

We would like to see more balance in the offerings of books for children. For each book promoting the LGBTQ lifestyle, there should be a book on display that discusses how God created and designed people as either male or female from birth, for life.

Greenlee reported that of the 5,779 children’s materials the library holds, only three books had a subject heading of ‘LGBT’, only two books had a heading of ‘Gay’ and only two books referenced ‘transgender’ issues. In addition, there were 173 books in the library collection that were based on Christian life.

Following the next library board meeting, which was apparently a repetition of the previous one, Greenlee resigned. The interim Director, a gay man, resigned shortly afterward, leaving the Vinton Public Library without any full-time staff.

This is NOT to say that Vinton, Iowa is a town full of assholes. It’s to say that the people of Vinton allowed their local assholes to disrupt a public service that’s been supporting their community for over a century. They’ve turned a lovely gift–a Carnegie library–into an open, festering wound of resentment and hate.

This is happening all over the United States. It happens because the assholes show up while decent people stay home and watch television. In small towns throughout the nation, a minority of bitter, ignorant, self-righteous religious bigots terrified of imaginary enemies have begun to impose their mean-spirited agenda on the rest of us.

And we’ve let them do it. We can’t expect them to be better. We have to DO better ourselves.