The IOLERO (Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach) meeting on May 1 was prefaced by some good news. Sheriff Freitas has changed his ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) cooperation policy, a compromise in response to IOLERO recommendations. This should provide a greater level of confidence for the undocumented community, as the TRUST Act provides clear parameters about Sheriff’s jailhouse ICE cooperation policy. A clear threshold now exists. People can know their rights relative to the TRUST Act overlay, and policy can be measured accordingly.
At issue in the last two IOLERO meetings has been a personnel issue surrounding the firing of former IOLERO Community Advisory Council Chair (CAC) Alicia Roman.
I am interested in the dynamics of the public comment around the firing. This is a study of the intersection of human behavior, public process, free speech, advocacy and legitimate civil rights issues. How they are all entwined here, is a matter of opinion.
My opinion: The Roman supporters are conflating the firing with the Andy Lopez shooting, with all oppression of minorities, and in that collapsing, seeking to delegitimize all the current and potential positive community outreach and good work of IOLERO. The protestors are seeking to sabotage the whole operation, and hold IOLERO public meeting proceedings hostage, on the basis of their disagreeing on the firing. At risk in this strategy is to cripple the IOLERO CAC, and make it unable to work on or address any substantive law enforcement issues.
I don’t think there is a necessary connection, as the protestors do, between the Roman firing, and there being a fatal flaw in IOLERO’s continuing mission, nor in the sentiments and goals of the IOLERO director and CAC.
The creation of IOLERO was controversial
A background element of lingering resentment is in play among some, that IOLERO never became an actual oversight body with any regulatory power over Sheriff’s Office policy. The impression here is of a largely symbolic group defanged from the ability to affect policy changes.
Propensity to judgement
One Alicia Roman group leader called for protest the day of Roman’s firing. This is similar to how public judgment unfolded with the Anita Hill/ Clarence Thomas dispute. When that all came out, most people decided right away, on the basis of hearsay, who was guilty or innocent, in the absence of any evidence.
If the goal here is to get a neutral, fact-based, objective call, then it would be reasonable to take into account the director’s reasons for the firing, and to see that some of them may have some merit. A search for the full story does not start by pronouncing judgement immediately.
The protest group, however, sees Alicia Roman’s firing as a matter absolutism, of Truth versus Falsehood, where there can be no middle ground. It’s a matter of injustice along a spectrum with the Andy Lopez shooting, a matter of white male enforced decorum, of tone policing, and structural, paternalistic domination over women and minorities. The statement was made a number of times that the Latino community has lost confidence in IOLERO (even though IOLERO’s work has now resulted in a change in Sheriff’s policy for the better).
The Roman protest dynamic has clear strains of talebearing. The narrative becomes more important than balance, the facts, objectivity, or neutrality. In a personnel or relationship dispute, talebearing is a well-known but overwhelmingly one-sided tactic that perpetuates and inflames conflict. Talebearers cling to ownership of the facts, when any resolution would call for raising the bar above limited views of just what these facts really are and what they represent.
Irony: all basically agree on the substantive issues
Director Jerry Threet has given his side of the story in the packet for the 5/2/17 meeting. His take is generally, that a certain tone and decorum is necessary to be effective in influencing Sheriff’s policy. As CAC member Liz Cozine said, in her opinion, there is not much difference in what Alicia and Jerry think, it’s “just a difference in approach.” It appears the primary differences are stylistic: how to broach differences with the Sheriff’s Office, through confrontation or cooperation?
Roman supporters spoke about issues of neutrality, objectivity, judgement on the basis of the facts. They hoped the CAC would agree with them. When it became clear that the CAC was not going to split off from staff and go for the Roman-group-hoped-for-insurrection, one member of the public accused the CAC of being like a USSR rubber stamp body for the Politburo. This same commenter ended up being wrong on an accusation about Brown Act specifics. The protesting public furthermore did not pay attention, and got points of hearing content wrong. It became clear that the protestors were reaching for any possible way to throw more logs on the fire.
A line of comment was opened that the CAC was not “independent”, and was unrepresentative of the community, and that the women of color on the CAC had failed to represent their gender or “the community”, or the potential of women to behave in a more just, compassionate manner. This, plus the USSR stuff, was flat out shaming.
More logs on the fire
One public comment followed up on a theme that IOLERO is simply corrupt. The county is “using” the CAC to be a front for a conspiracy that there are no problems with the Sheriff’s Office. “Alicia knows too much; the Sheriff can’t let her be on the CAC board…”
Public comments by Roman supporters started off and kept up with every opportunity. Comments were highly polemic and ranged from some well-measured statements to sarcastic, insulting, and shaming, of both the CAC and Director Threet. Unlike most Brown Act meetings, there was much out of order talking from the audience, clapping, and theatrics. In spite of the out or order behavior, no policing of audience behavior was done by the Chair or staff. This is what I termed in a previous article on the last IOLERO meeting, as a circus atmosphere.
The election of the Vice Chair became a point of contention in the overall dispute between Roman supporters and the CAC. The item was agreed to be put farther down on the agenda, but the meeting was so thoroughly dominated by protest, that by the time the agenda item came up, the CAC was too exhausted for further business and tabled the rest of the meeting. Very little substance outside the protest was covered in the meeting, but when it was, the return to substance was refreshing.
Hard left bubble
As I see this, the Roman supporters are in a hard-Left bubble, and in any given situation, they find exactly what they are looking for, because of a deeply ingrained partisan confirmation bias. Only they are pure. Only they are on the side of the oppressed, justice, and truth. All opposing instances or statements then are collapsed into being seen as hopeless justifications of the man and white male oppressors. The Sheriff, and any perceived lackeys, cannot possibly be people who have any redeeming values, or be of any good will. Anyone looking for a middle path, or willing to work with government actors, from a place of good will, is seen as corrupt and sold out.
From this kind of place, you are either with us or against us, zero sum game city. Most of us have been here before, in the various situations of life, it happens. This enemy-making propensity is what makes human history to be littered with violent episode after violent episode.
Bubble is popping?
I can say this with some insight because I myself am expert at blaming everything on greed, rich white men, and Wall Street values. And so, this IOLERO process forces me to triangulate on my own behavior and narratives, and how I must come off to those I would like to influence. I’d have to say that a good rant is emotionally satisfying, but probably not much effective gets done by it other than preaching to the choir. There is a way to say things so as to make a convincing argument. If people in power need to be spoon-fed opinions and suggestions in a way they can accept, then that is a pragmatic dance to learn how to do.
The public actors I admire most can put out a highly critical statement without making it an ad hominem attack. Which is to say, it’s possible to strongly advocate.
I don’t see much mileage in assuming that people in power get out of bed everyday thinking how much more corrupt they can be. Better to assume that most people have good will, but are just on a different channel of good will. The project of change, is then to get good at translation, of why people think what they do. Walk a mile in their shoes. Understand what makes them tick. As a number of public officials have said, they value one solution over 10 complaints.
At any rate, this is a tactical observation on points I basically agree with the protestors on, points I think are being conflated with the firing.
Pot calling the kettle black
The irony in all of this, is that the very closed-mindedness and absolutism decried by the Roman protestors, is then squarely recapitulated by them, with just another flavor of intolerance. This is where the dynamics become similar to current free speech dust ups on liberal college campuses.
Judging from how things at IOLERO have gone so far, the Roman group is doubling down on confrontation, and if they don’t get their way, they’ll give the whole IOLERO public meeting process a poison pill of endless confrontation. I don’t see how this is effective at all, and frankly it just makes them look worse, marginalizes them, and lessens the chance of getting any of what they want.
Free speech corollaries with current college campuses
At the first IOLERO meeting in April, after Alicia Roman’s firing, the protestors felt so passionately, any points to the contrary were deemed completely unworthy of discussion. I picked up on this in my public comment, by pointing out the current tensions over free speech at Middlebury College in VT.
Free speech in the above moment, to me, was taking the right to analyze this IOLERO situation myself, and not be co-opted by an angry crowd and shoe-horned into an uncritical mass movement, like Eric Hoffer’s True Believer. This free speech on college campuses is proving to be a very interesting set of issues, and as I learn more, and make some connections with the current IOLERO process, I reserve the right to make my own call.
Good NYT editorial to chew on
As per a recent NYT editorial piece by Provost Ulrich Baer of New York University, the IOLERO demonstrators were so passionate not because of investment in an abstract personnel argument, but because their experience led them to know that their perspective had, systemically, not been allowed to be at the table. This is the context, and legacy of the Andy Lopez shooting, Black Lives Matter, and the Trump immigration executive orders. The aggregate feeling is of those who are oppressed, victims of racism and nativism, as enforced by clearly unjust laws and enforcement policies. The experience of the oppressed, is that US socio-economic relations, as a whole, has been, and is, in many ways tremendously unjust. There is no valid human and civil rights justification for it. This goes over into colonialism and the creation of the Third World as well.
Is IOLERO doing the mission or not?
These sentiments are what IOLERO is supposed to, and has, conveyed to the Sheriff’s Office, in the form of a policy recommendation to further disentangle from ICE. These recommendations are the result of community feedback. The experience of the immigrant community has been taken into account.
The learning of and putting on the table to the Sheriff’s Office, the experience of delegitimized, and quasi-citizen minorities, is the essence of the IOLERO mission. Will that mission now be tanked as the above community participation issues become conflated with a personnel issue, the Roman firing? Or is the personnel issue, as the protestors maintain, a further symptom of systemic patriarchal control and white male dominance?
At IOLERO, the backstory of the Andy Lopez shooting, the Black Lives Matter pattern, and the feeling of individual and collective powerlessness in front of law enforcement, and Trump’s racist and nativist immigration executive orders, all played into feelings surrounding Director Threet’s firing of Alicia Roman from the CAC. It seemed to the demonstrators as if it all added up to a collective delegitimization of a valid minority perspective, a perspective that has not been allowed to be at the table, hence the rage at not being heard through the years, the shaming of the CAC, and the flat-out rejection of any argument to the contrary.
Any chance for a middle path?
I don’t know if the protesters will be able to see their way clear to disentangle any of this and be able to move on, and allow IOLERO to proceed with its mission. I, and others think the central reasons for the existence of IOLERO are basically agreed upon by all. If this is the case, why don’t the protestors cut their losses and move on?
The CAC made a plan at the April meeting to review the dismissal process. And they did do that, in a way that seemed to me to try and finesse the differences at stake. The CAC found a middle path way. That’s reasonable.
Confrontation or cooperation?
Many governmental agencies and NGOs explicitly disavow advocacy, even though they are actually working for change. This is working for change from within the system This non-advocacy stance is presented by Mr. Baer in the NYT article, as the one that tries to be reasonable and objective. This however, trends to maddeningly make real-life oppression into an abstract, academic argument.
The immediacy of experience, is what gets presented by advocates from outside the system. This view seems to challenge status quo power and control. And then, as Baer notes there is pressure from the insiders, to control the outsiders, i.e. minorities and the oppressed, to have them be reasonable, to make their experience into an abstraction. If the minorities do not play along, they are then not allowed to be equal partners in the discussion.
Advocates see the objective discourse, fact-based, within-the-system people as spineless wimps who are co-opted to not rock the boat too much and allow business as usual to proceed apace. Business as usual is what has led the world to the brink of environmental ruin and unsustainable inequality. The within-the-system cohort sees advocates as ineffective, as creating too much polarization to ever allow anything to get done. And so here we are back at the cooperation or confrontation flow chart stem.
Purity is problematic
Bottom line: if purity to either an inside or outside the system perspective is primary, then there can never be any dialogue or incremental changes, or ways to finesse differences in what material even gets to the table to talk about. If purity rules, the only option to resolve systemic tensions is a zero sum game standoff. The framing of this situation as having no middle ground is itself a serious problem for ever getting anything done.
Purity is a deeply ingrained moral capacity that causes people a lot of trouble. And then human rational capacity helps us to create symbolic houses of mirrors around ourselves, that we then have trouble seeing out of.
Minority community sentiment is real
The real crux of the issue, as presented in the NYT editorial, is that by not allowing human rights advocates legitimacy, an unjust system is allowed to continue to exist. This decorous adherence to status quo discourse is what kept slavery, oppression and exploitation in place, in spite of the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement. This is what the Trump immigration orders are, unacceptable, at the same level the Fugitive Slave Act was unacceptable. At some point, not playing along with the rules of the dominant paradigm is seen as a necessary act. The people become radicalized as they see the system is not, and will not, perform in ways seen as morally necessary. Not only is this a communication issue, it is fundamentally an issue of asymmetrical power and control over the discourse, over what can be said and accepted as valid.
Demographically, a significant proportion of the Latino community is oppressed and exploited, poor, lacks health insurance, makes low wages, and is under-educated.
But is this all directly related to the Alicia Roman firing, or not?
Texas Tornados to the rescue?
The Roman firing is seen as just one more link in the chain of an overall systemic oppression. Yet IOLERO exists to mirror these exact kinds of community sentiments to law enforcement agencies. IOLERO can equally well be spun as a good faith action by the Board of Supervisors, to do the best they can to address thorny, systemic issues. Maybe a little bit is better than nada, but some still want the whole enchilada.
If views are the same, let personnel issues be personnel issues
IOLERO was created specifically to address the gulf between the disenfranchised and the status quo. Director Threet’s actions to interview and meet with the immigrant community, and his report to the Sheriff, show he is sympathetic, and a willing servant to relay community voices, and to express them as part of his policy recommendations.
Mr. Threet’s own policy recommendation to the Sheriff is largely identical to the CAC’s own thorough recommendations, ones shaped by Alicia Roman. The irony is that both sides have basically the same view for what IOLERO recommends to the Sheriff, and likely share the same feelings and experiences concerning the disenfranchised as well. The experience of the oppressed is being relayed, and has now resulted in movement by the Sheriff to accept a TRUST Act overlay with ICE cooperation. An inside the system process has worked.
Hope for conciliation
Certainly, the experience of the undocumented community after Trump, and the Latino community after the Andy Lopez shooting is legitimate and deserving of inclusion at the table of public discussion of immigration and law enforcement policy. So how can IOLERO get itself back on track here and disentangle the Roman firing from the good work that is being done, and that is worthy of community trust and support? I hope that the CAC, and the public will be able to separate out the issues surrounding the Alicia Roman firing and clearly delineate them. I hope the Roman protestors can move on and refocus on the larger issues. If Alicia herself were to call it off, that would be a great demonstration of good will, and eyes on the prize.
Main point: separate the personnel issue from all the rest and see that the righteous indignation about actual community experience does not necessarily fit the personnel issue, or the style issue. Everyone is likely on the same page otherwise. If there are cultural issues at stake, if there are inside/ outside issues at stake, let’s address them frankly. Let’s not let one incident forever cripple a decent forum put in place to address salient law enforcement and community issues.