In a recent post, I claimed that #JusticeForEthan is not about politics. Well, I have to eat my words. The more I read and find out about the political climate in Frederick County the more I realize that politics is at the very heart of the matter.
Since Saylor died in January, the only people to cover the story were local reporters...
But with the new petition, with the reporting by WUSA*9 in D.C., MD lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur pushing for answers (this may be the catalyst) and .. well, who really knows, the story is spreading. CBS picked up the story, and Yahoo!, and now ABC. It may be that the petition, which now has over 200,000 signatures, is driving the story. Hey, maybe you could go sign it.
It's heartening to see. Last May, when I wrote my first blog post about Saylor, no petition had more than about 1000 signatures, because the issue had gained no traction outside of the disability community. Now things are moving.
Beginning in April, several of us learned how to use Twitter just so we could join in the Tweet-a-thons on Thursday nights. The object was to post enough tweets using the hashtag #JusticeForEthan so that it "trended" (I'm still not sure how many tweets that takes). We researched and tried to find any and every celebrity who had a personal connection to Down syndrome. We sent messages to all the major news outlets and talk show hosts hoping someone would take an interest. Nothing happened. Now, when election time comes around, suddenly someone is willing to speak out. (I am glad and grateful that she did.)
It seems to me that Heather Mizeur got some news media attention, which brought in WUSA9 and reporter Debra Alfarone. She's been investigating this story with fervor since then. I can only speculate that it was her efforts that caught the attention of someone at Change.org. After speaking with Emma, they started featuring her petition on Facebook, Twitter, and their own site. On August 20th, this update was posted on the Justice For Ethan Facebook page:
Thanks to Jon Perri and the folks at Change.org, our petition to reach Governor O'Malley and demand an independent criminal investigation into Ethan's death has grown from 1,400 to over 36,000 signatures SINCE THIS MORNING!!! The support is overwhelming... thank you all.
But there's a down side too
I'll admit, I've never been as involved as I probably should be when it comes to politics. I wasn't really aware of how the landscape in Frederick County plays out. It didn't even occur to me that there might be a problem until I read that four out of five county commissioners signed a letter thanking the sheriff's office for their work "in light of recent controversies."
The idea to write the letter came from Commissioners President Blaine Young.
Commissioners had been commenting on news reports about a federal appeals court ruling that Frederick County deputies had unlawfully arrested a Salvadoran woman in October 2008. They also mentioned the widespread publicity about the death of Robert Ethan Saylor, the man with Down syndrome who died in January while in the custody of off-duty sheriff's deputies.
Reading about this incident felt like a slap in the face. Yes, they are aware of the situation, they just don't care. It would be bad enough on its own but the more I searched out articles mentioning Young and Jenkins, the worse it got.
An article in the Baltimore Sun refers to "the people who run Frederick County, the Board of County Commissioners and the sheriff."
An article in the Washington Post hails Jenkins as a "hero of the tea party movement" because of his dogged approach to illegal immigration and talks about how he is loved by many. Jenkins claims that any criticism of his deputies' performance comes from outside the county (does that mean it's not relevant?) and "probably isn't based on facts." He told the reporter: “I police the way I think the people of this county want me to police.”
As for Blaine Young, he's made it clear on several occasions lately that he does whatever he wants to. You'll find him listed (along with Jenkins) on FrederickGOP.com. The first line of his profile says : "Blaine Young is Frederick County's self proclaimed "Youngest Good Ol' Boy" and for good reason." Doesn't that say it all? His father was Mayor of Frederick for four terms and he's a radio talk-show host. He's also the Sheriff's Office Liaison.
Young and his three followers (they vote as a bloc 91% of the time) have been pushing for the sale of two county owned facilities (a rehabilitation center and assisted living center) to a private corporation despite public opposition. On August 17th an article in the Frederick News Post showed just how little respect the commissioners have for the law.
A state board has found three Frederick County commissioners violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when they discussed the sale of two county-owned facilities on a local radio program in June...
Delauter and Shreve said they thought the opinion was ridiculous.
“I’m not going to lose any sleep on it,” he (Delauter) said of the compliance board’s decision.
A defiant Young pledged after the meeting to continue the sale process, attempting to brush it off as no big deal.
"I don't think there will be a delay in closing unless the state wants to sue us for money that we'll pay them," Young said.
So what does that mean for #JusticeForEthan?
To top it all off, Young was running for Mayor but dropped out of the race. Speculation is that he used that campaign to raise money to run for Frederick County's first county executive. Meanwhile, the Governor is expected to run for President in 2016.
I'm no political operative, and I maintain a healthy suspicion about bias in the media, but instinct tells me that there's something fishy going on. Jenkins can claim that his deputies did nothing wrong but fail to answer basic questions like "How did his larynx get injured." State's Attorney Charlie Smith can say "We are an independent investigation. I feel very strongly about that." The deputies involved don't have to say anything, except to a grand jury in secret. The witnesses only get to give statements to other deputies (no pressure there). And Governor O'Malley can just be silent.
And everybody is OK with this? Is this really politics as usual?