Sheriff Fitzgerald still has a badge and a gun. He holds a position of authority and is still drawing a paycheck. What he does not have is the respect of the community, their trust, or their confidence. Why? Because recent events have revealed that he does not respect and embody the values of our community. His words and actions have been filled with racism and derision.
Rumor has it he'd like to stay. I sincerely hope this is a faulty rumor. It is completely impossible for someone with so little regard for the citizens of Howard County to continue to hold this position. This is not who we are. This is not Howard County, I hear people say. This is not Columbia.
In the midst of many online conversations about this issue I bumped into this by Alice Marks (HoCoHouseHon).
I feel like it's incredibly naive to think that this kind of racism is rare in Howard County or anywhere in America. We tend to notice racism which is spoken or racism proved violently at the point of a gun, but rarely do we deign to notice the casual, soft racism which is integral to our culture. This one man voices the racism of many. Most are too "nice" to say it out loud. We can be shocked, but we should not be surprised. We foster this.
I don't think it's naive to expect better - I think it's naive to think this problem isn't endemic to American society as a whole. Of course I want us to respect each other. But we don't. We should totally oust outspoken racists, but we need to be willing to look into ourselves for our own biases. How many of us have friends who have said something outré? How many of us have stood by when family members have been quietly racist? Common decency is too often a shield for not admitting our own silent bigotry. I want more. Getting rid of the loudest lout is only one step in the long journey of ridding our country of systemic racism.
She's right. Fitzgerald is the loudest lout in the room and he must go, but that is not enough. We can't pretend that he is some alien being that got dropped into the nest like a cowbird's egg. Even in Howard County there are those who allow racism to go unchallenged by ignoring, looking the other way, enabling. And by well-meaning people who don't stand up.
Maybe sometimes that's me. Or you. Because we don't want to rock the boat or make a fuss or get into a socially awkward or confrontational situation.
"We can be shocked, but we should not be surprised. We foster this."
It is time, long past time, to stop fostering and to commit to doing better. Fitzgerald must go. Then let's get to work to make Howard County a place that's fair and safe for all, and where the Fitzgeralds of the world cannot hide.