Wednesday, August 03, 2005

What am I, a meshugana?

The City of Springfield, once again stung by charges of racism in the wake of allegations that a black firefighter candidate was unduly dismissed, might want to take a page from Rafael Palmeiro who is reeling from a suspension after a positive steroid test. A line of defense deployed by Palmeiro, which rings hallow and desperate in his case, just might be persuasive in tilting the tide of public opinion towards the city.

I’ll dub it the “What am I, a meshugana?” defense, which, as a side note, marks the first instance of a Yiddish word being used on this blog. The defense works like this. A person accused of wrong doing points out all of the obvious reasons that it would have been foolhardy of them to commit such an act and then declares that they would have to be crazy to have done so. Their statement implies that they are, in fact, not crazy, and therefore can not be expected to have perpetrated such an offense.

Palmeiro brandished this defense in the course of denying that he “knowingly” took steroids. Why, he ponders incredulously, would he risk such a transgression after vehemently denying it before Congress earlier this year, and while the spotlight shone bright upon him as he surpassed a major milestone in the annals of baseball?

A common response from baseball commentators is that he risked violating the league’s drug policy because he has gotten away with it for so long that it didn’t seem that great a risk. Others have pointed out that his fear of shrinking towards the last vestiges of his career before casting himself in stone as one of the game’s legends may have clouded his senses. And, of course, there is the possibility that prolonged steroid use does render one somewhat meshuga (second instance).

So why should the city adopt a similar line of defense when it obviously lends itself to speculation and skepticism? Because right now, almost the entire case involving the spurned firefighter candidate and the city’s civil service commission is made up of speculation and skepticism.

The facts of the case as we know them is that a seemingly qualified candidate was dismissed from consideration after the results of his background check were made known to the commission, but to no one else. We also know that the candidate is a bit of scofflaw which may be, but probably isn’t, the reason for his rejection.

The common reactions to the story range from allegations of systematic racism throughout the city, to insinuations that the candidate is fully aware that there is a legitimate reason for his disqualification, but since the city can not reveal it, he is feigning dumbfoundedness.

My reaction, while acknowledging that racism still lurks in the hearts of some, is that Jim Crow is dead and that such an obvious and discriminate act as dismissing a firefighter candidate based solely on the color of his skin is extremely unlikely. Even if the members of the civil service commission were secret card-carrying members of the Klan, with tailored sheets tucked away in the back of their wardrobe closets, they wouldn’t attempt such a brazen display of discrimination what with the NAACP and the media breathing down their necks over this very issue. They’d have to be, well, crazy to try such a thing.

The lack of minorities on the fire and police departments is the albatross around the city’s neck just as steroids are choking major league baseball. But unlike Palmeiro, who tested dirty, no hard evidence has arisen that proves the city’s actions in dismissing the candidate were in anyway influenced by race. In fact, they may be sitting on the facts that would exonerate them due to the legalities involved in releasing such information.

So the best the city can do at this point is to plead sanity and hope that time will shed some sunshine on this story. And should it later come to be known that the candidate was discriminated against, then I'll have to plead naïveté.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What the City needs to do is just stand up and say "that's how it is and it's not going to change no matter how much the NAACP cries."

It is time that the City puts an end to their pandering to the strong-armed tactics, and the irrational paranoid accusations that are being floated by the NAACP and other like groups. As long as the City shows a good faith effort towards recruiting minorities they should be free of the constant criticism.

This situation is shaping up to be like the Renatta Frazier case. Why would the City go out of their way to recruit minorities, and "dumb-down" the testing process (easier written test, heavily weighted oral board) only to go out of their way to get rid of them? IT MAKES ZERO SENSE! In the Frazier case the City ignored severe problems in her background investigation in order to try to boost their minority numbers. What the City got in return was an unqualified person that they had to give $800,000 to after finally realizing that they should have heeded the warnings in the background investigation.

Hopefully the City has learned their lesson and will stick to their guns in this case. Background investigations are rarely wrong.

One final comment. How would you like to be the person who gave negative background information on a potential police or fire candidate, assuming that the information was confidential, only to have it released to the candidate? Does anyone see a potential problem here?