A Nevada library received a very petulant letter from Douglas County Sheriff Dan Coverley after the library released a diversity statement that included the line: “We support #BlackLivesMatter.” Coverley wrote a letter on the Douglas County government website that argued there was no racism or bias in the law enforcement system. His statement ended with Coverley threatening the library, saying: “Due to your support of Black Lives Matter and the obvious lack of support or trust with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, please do not feel the need to call 911 for help. I wish you good luck with disturbances and lewd behavior, since those are just some of the recent calls my office has assisted you with in the past.”
This is quite a bananas coco puffs thing to say. The news of this strange threat against a public library by a county’s law enforcement head made quick news. This prompted Coverley to follow up that statement by telling news outlets: “My response to the Library’s proposed agenda item was to provide public comment about their proposed diversity statement and to further provide open commentary about how this could affect our local law enforcement profession.”
At the time, Library Director Amy Dodson told The Nevada Independent that she was surprised by the response. “We help everyone and serve everyone equally. And so that's really all that the statement was meant to communicate, but that one sentence [about the Black Lives Matter movement] touched off a bit of a firestorm in social media.”
Coverley’s defensiveness may come from the fact that Douglas County is over 91% white, with a population of Black lives making up around 1%, according to Census.gov. The less Black people there are, the less chance Coverley likely believes there is any racism in his ranks. It’s sort of a hear-no-evil-see-no-evil proposition. Of course, according to the ACLU, while there are very few Black people in Douglas County, Nevada, they are 21.91 times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts. Weird, right?
On Tuesday, Dodson reportedly met with Coverley to talk about Coverley’s ouchy tushy. Dodson released a statement after the meeting that read: “Sheriff Coverley and I had a very candid conversation about the statement and we both expressed our opinions regarding the intent of our exchanged correspondence. We agreed that we both support the people of Douglas County and this may have been an unfortunate circumstance of misunderstanding. The library respects and supports the work of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and appreciates everything they do to keep our community safe.”
The original statement that the board of library trustees was set to vote on on Tuesday evening was a diversity mission statement that included this paragraph:
The Douglas County Public Library denounces all acts of violence, racism, and disregard for human rights. We support #Black Lives Matter. We resolutely assert and believe that all forms of racism, hatred, inequality, and injustice don’t belong in our society.
It’s telling that Coverley felt so attacked by such an inclusive statement about justice and a society based in fairness. However, a person like Coverley isn’t the most creative mind when it comes to critical thinking. As the Independent pointed out, Coverley’s statement was mostly plagiarized from conservative attorney generals and the Western States Sheriffs Association statement sent to congressional leaders in June.
After the uproar that a city official telling citizens he won’t do his job brings, Coverley released a statement that some outlets generously described as “walking back” his previous dumb statement. “I am passionate about and proud of the work the Sheriff’s Office does for all members of this community. This has been a difficult time to be a law enforcement professional and can be disheartening when we perceive that our office may be under attack. My response was rooted in my belief that these issues need to be openly discussed in a way that values diversity and law enforcement.” Not really an apology, nor is it “walking back “anything.
Coverley’s statement brought up some of the facts of the matter. For one, Coverley himself was accused of excessive force back in 2001, a video of which you can watch below, where he held a man by his throat and lifted him off the ground. This Is Reno reports that Coverley received a one-day suspension for that incident and told the Record Courier: “At the time that I was disciplined and suspended for one day for using an improper lifting technique. The incident was investigated for excessive use of force, and I was cleared.” Douglas County settled with the citizen whose rights were violated out of court, and now Coverley is the sheriff! U-S-A!
However, this hasn’t been a victory for diversity as much as it has illuminated how small the crevices are in our society where racism and bigotry and fear live. The diversity statement was removed from the library’s Facebook page after county officials reportedly said that “it violated a policy on using government websites to promote a political agenda.” As county spokesperson Melissa Blosser told the Reno Gazette Journal: "We had them take it down. We cannot use public owned media to propagate a political agenda."
Black Lives Matter is apparently a “political” agenda. And here most of us thought it was an organizing cry under which lots of different groups have been working to bring racial, social, and economic justice to hundreds of millions of Americans.