By Moonshine Ink Editorial Board
(Editors’ Note: This piece is from our editorial board, which means each of us has to stand behind its words and its intent. Our team discussed it many times, and as we grappled with the many different perspectives that came to the table, we realized that our at-times contentious conversation was analogous to the hard discussions our country must have to address this issue. We hope and pray that each of you will do the work to continue the dialogue.)
The Truckee police chief was basically run out of office last month. To us, our community missed the mark.
While we agree there is a real need to address police brutality and systemic racism in this country, we think the resultant firestorm over the chief’s words was misguided. We believe that the call for accountability should keep in mind that reform comes when all parties come to the table, with the opportunity to learn and grow.
In an internal email that leaked out, Leftwich outlined the town’s preparation for the then upcoming Say Their Names vigil and march. He also questioned the innocence of George Floyd — the catalyst for the national cry of action, defended his fellow law enforcement public servants, and asked that people see that the resultant riots led to the death of another Black American, who was a police officer.
Yes, Leftwich’s email reflected some of the very issues people have been taking to the streets to protest. The fact that such a brutal act as did Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with killing Floyd, could be justified or perhaps worse, defended. The fact that he doesn’t seem to understand the depths of pain that hundreds of years of oppression can have on our fellow citizens.
Yet he was also calling into question violence as a whole. He alluded to George Floyd’s past brushes with the law. And he was reminding people that not all policemen, in fact very few, are Chauvin. These are salient points. In the haste to call into question his words about George Floyd, the rest of his email was overlooked.
We’re asking people to listen to the pain of others; we, too, have to listen.
Also overlooked was the fact that Leftwich was willing to come to the table to have this discussion. First off, he took the time to address the issue in a lengthy email. When the firestorm brewed, he participated in a June 8 town hall convened in response to his email. There he said, “[George Floyd] did not deserve a single bit of it. And I don’t know if I’ve publicly said that, but it’s an atrocity, it should be condemned, and it really is a tragedy that has sparked a bigger conversation that probably was so needed in our country.”
His statement was given at the same town hall where 180-plus comments (both condemning and supporting) were submitted about Leftwich’s email and a culture of racism some saw within the police department.
These are words of someone who is ready to constructively engage, but maybe hasn’t quite gotten there. Growth won’t happen overnight, it might not ever happen, but it certainly won’t happen if we don’t keep the door open.
It’s going to take time to turn this ship around. We have a lot of work to do. Even though the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, outlawing discrimination, African Americans are disproportionately arrested and represented in our prisons. They have higher unemployment rates, significantly less generational wealth, and lower levels of education. Let’s not lose an advocate in the fight over a few sentences that were poorly construed.
One imperfect moment should not a person make. In other words, we are all human and we all make mistakes. And as we’ve all been told, we usually learn more from our mistakes than our successes.
Demonizing him, scapegoating him, as if his removal would address the underlying issues that led him to pen those words, only serves to deepen the divide that is prevalent in our nation and our local community today.
In his quick departure, Leftwich’s triumphs were left by the wayside. He surfaced as a leader of the community during COVID, providing clarity in legal directives and reminding all of us that we have personal responsibility in the fight against this new threat to humanity. He also knelt in unity with people at the Truckee vigil, and threats to the peaceful gatherings were defused by his department.
Too often today, people are afraid to speak their truth, for this very reason — that what they say will be taken out of context, twisted to form some narrative not of their making, and often lead to a negation of everything else that makes them who they are. In fact, he went silent after the announcement of his retirement, not returning phone calls.
Leftwich retired last Friday — a decision allegedly pushed up from his September 2020 plan to leave — in the midst of incredible turmoil and those conversations that could have been had will never take place. It’s a departure in combination with the early retirement of the town manager. Now, we are left with a void of two top positions in a time our community grapples with issues that weigh heavier on everyone’s heart than ever before in recent history.
This very problem of throwing the baby out with the bathwater has been called out before. It’s the “cancel culture,” when public figures are said to be canceled after it has been discovered that they have done something offensive, whether in the past or in the present, usually done over social media.
This is not the way. If we always decided a person is non grata based on one single thing they say, no marriage would last more than a year! Seriously, it’s not allowing for that very real opportunity of someone changing their opinion or perspective.
Growth is a two-way street, and while the former chief certainly had room for improvement, so do we. In community members’ cries for his head, we didn’t allow for the ushering in of a new tomorrow. We just decided we didn’t like yesterday.
Most importantly, as much as he represented the problem in today’s world, he is not the problem. We all are. Racism surfaces in families who thought they taught tolerance to their young kids, who live with the privilege and because it’s uncomfortable, decide to stay mute, and in each of us who decide to watch candy-coated sitcoms, rather than educating ourselves with what the experience is for Black people and all those who are marginalized in America.
If we dismiss a person before we work to understand, we’re no better than those who act as judge and jury in one fell swoop. We’re better than that. Let’s contribute to a better tomorrow.