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Turning shame into pride

Shameful as it was to see the 1st and 4th Amendments trampled by jackboots, illegal searches to investigate perfectly legal actions weren’t the biggest problems arising from raids Aug. 11 on our office and elsewhere.

In a community that prides itself on friendliness, every shred of information sought by raiders could have been obtained merely by asking. We dutifully notified officials of the situation and offered cooperation a week earlier. Yet rather than conversation, they chose confrontation.

Their murky decision, suggesting inexplicable incompetence, becomes easier to fathom in light of a simultaneous raid on the home of Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel.

Accused of no crime and already having volunteered every shred of evidence a search could yield, Herbel was targeted for one reason alone — political bullying. Legal documents railroaded through Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, who had her own driving offenses to keep buried, offer absolutely no other justification for the raid on Herbel’s home.

International watchdogs protecting honest politicians don’t exist, so the gross injustice done to Herbel by Police Chief Gideon Cody — after meeting with Herbel’s political rival, Mayor David Mayfield, in defiance of City Administrator Brogan Jones’s decision not to pursue the matter — hasn’t been thrust into the international spotlight. It is equally egregious nonetheless.

The spotlight itself is among the most shameful aspects of the affair. A tiny group of lawless bullies abusing a system of justice that is the envy of every nation worldwide has left our beloved community, which this newspaper exists solely to serve, and law enforcement officers in general, both here and elsewhere, open to international ridicule.

It’s no small coincidence that a disproportionate heap of the literally tens of thousands of supportive messages we have received — not one of them in the least negative toward the paper — have come from veteran law enforcement officials concerned about their profession being tarred by the stick employed by a few self-important thugs, who deserve feathers to be added to the tar on their way out of town.

Equally shameful is how slow local authorities other than Chief Judge Ben Sexton have been to react.

In most cases involving allegations of misconduct, police officers automatically are suspended with pay — an action that is not punishment but rather reassurance to the public. It happened almost automatically when a Marion officer was involved in a fatal standoff in 2017.

But Mayfield, who clearly has the power to suspend, unlike other powers he has claimed to possess, has refused to suspend Cody, with whom he collaborated in deciding how to proceed.

What can the public say or do about this? Whoever is in charge of city council agendas used 47 exclamation points, in bold red type, to tell citizens they weren’t welcome to question anything about the raid.

County Attorney Joel Ensey, whose brother and sister-in-law have a financial stake in restaurateur Kari Newell’s business, has been anything but open about the matter.

Cody contends Ensey approved the raid in advance. Ensey contends that he didn’t see documents seeking warrants until three days after the raid and that he promptly disapproved. But he didn’t announce his disapproval until two days after that, apparently only at the urging of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

This past week, Ensey continually waffled and delayed on how to follow Sexton’s order requiring immediate return of everything seized — including 17 gigabytes of data copied from newspaper computers and added after the fact to an already signed inventory of seized items that was given to the newspaper.

Then there’s Newell, apparently little more than a pawn in a fast-and-loose chess match of shameless bullying. A person known to be excitable, she may have been goaded into making an overly amped-up complaint about something she was unaware of until after being told about it by one of three people — Mayfield, Cody, and City Clerk Janet Robinson — aware of the situation who were not already on record as planning to take no action to expose her having driven for 15 years without a license or questions about whether she possesses valid liquor and restaurant licenses.

The greatest shame, however, may involve otherwise well-intentioned efforts to bring the community together after the raid.

Whether these involve yard signs, picnics, or luncheons, as welcome as attempts to unify the community might be, they tend to gloss over rather than solve longstanding problems.

What Marion needs now is not to sing “Kumbaya” and pretend there aren’t groups within the community who too often wield intimidating power in ways typically more subtle than jackbooted raids. Behaviorists have a name for maintaining pretenses that problems don’t exist rather than addressing them head-on. It’s called “enabling.”

Many question why things often are sprung on the city council and community as last-minute, take-it-or-leave-it propositions. Many fear reprisal or being made to look stupid if they come forward to ask a question or run for office.

Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant. Openness and willingness not just to listen to but also to express ideas is at the very heart of democracy. So is the notion of journalists holding a mirror to society, not to belittle it but to help it identify problems it can solve.

Democracy is an untidy form of government, but it’s infinitely better than allowing small groups to rule by threat ostracizing anyone who questions anything as not being part of “Pleasantville.”

We live in a wonderful place that has it within its power to become even better if we don’t insist on everything staying in unquestioning black and white and allow openness and dialogue to bring color to our lives.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Aug. 30, 2023

 

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