Protests and demonstrations were unheard of in Sumton, Ohio. Yet in the past two months, Mayor Jane Major had dealt with more protests than the previous ten mayors combined. First came the reopeners. They’d gathered outside town hall, holding guns so big they had to have been designed to kill whales.
Their posturing hadn’t shaken Jane Major’s conviction. The city would remain closed until the time was right to reopen. With their curve not flattening, the right time was not going to be anytime soon. Jane Major did not give in easily. She’d been an underdog her whole life. Born with eight and a half toes, she’d been told by doctors that she’d never be able to be a ballerina. After receiving the top award at the World Ballet Competition in 2003, she’d thanked her doctors for the motivation.
She was the first female mayor in Sumton’s history, having had to overcome sexism, voter fraud, and consistent attacks from the local media on her hairstyle. Her red hair and pigtails had been very controversial and led to her being called, “childish”, “unprofessional”, and “Major Piggy” by the Sumton News Daily. None of that had stopped her from taking office.
Just as those protests had been subsiding, the protests against police brutality began. They’d been spared from such demonstrations in the past. She’d thought last year when an officer had shot a one-legged man in his one leg that an out-roar was sure to happen. It was absolutely necessary. My life was in danger, the officer had said in his police report. Sumton had been quiet then, they weren’t quiet now. This week, the police station hadn’t had one day without a crowd of demonstrators gathering outside it. Traffic had been held up by protesters holding hands in the streets. Something had to be done. Unlike the reopeners, Mayor Major agreed with the current protesters that police reform was necessary.
In a conference room in town hall, she’d assembled the most important people in Sumton to discuss police reform; the governing board, police chief Barnsby, and Norbert Daggerton. Daggerton was a rich owner of many local businesses including Daggerton Construction which had built half of Sumton. Named the unsung hero of Sumtown by the Sumton News Daily (which he owned), Norbert Daggerton had influenced every election in Sumton since Ronald Reagan had been shot. Only one mayor had been elected that he had not endorsed, Jane Major.
Wanting to make peace between the two of them, Jane had included Daggerton on the police reform team. Half her term had been jammed up by Daggerton and his floozies. To enact real change, she’d have to hear out his concerns on this issue. She did fear he wouldn’t be willing to work with her after all the nasty things that had been said over the years. Still, she wanted to give him a chance to speak.
She couldn’t read the neutral expression on his face as he stared at her from across the other end of the large round table the team was sitting at. He was wearing a tan business suit. His hair dyed black to help him appear younger but it had the opposite effect. She might have been able to read him better without the black protective mask on his face. He’d sold hundreds just like it through one of his manufacturing companies. It hid his sharp narrow nose and thin lips that had often been pursed with disapproval when he saw Mayor Major.
When the last person invited to the meeting arrived, Mayor Major gestured to the police officer in the room. He exited the room and locked the door behind him. She’d instructed him not to open it for anyone without her approval. She was determined not to leave without a practical plan for police reform.
Around the table, everyone was sitting at least six feet apart from each other while wearing protective masks. Mayor Major had told everyone that they should set the example for people to follow, even when eyes were not on them like tonight. Yes, it was annoying to have to wear protective masks. Mayor Major’s own mask made her nose itch and smelled. But if they expected the public to do it, they had to do it themselves.
“Thank you for gathering here today. We have one order of business, police reform. I know you’re all aware of the on-going protests around the country and in Sumton. Police chief Barnsby can attest to that,” Mayor Major said. Barnsby was off to her right. He was a stout man with a face worn down by decades of police work and intense chain-smoking.
Barnsby spoke up in his gruff voice. “Yes. They’re out there now, kneeling in front of the station. Altercations have happened between police and the public that we’re not happy with. Last year’s shooting of Mr. Sakura in his one leg should never have happened. We’re not perfect. I’m open to changes so long as they are practical.”
“Practical is what I want this police reform to be. Now I’m going to open the room for anyone to speak on what they feel should be addressed in this new legislation,” Mayor Major said. Daggerton cleared his throat, a classic move he’d done over the years to get attention focused on him. “Mr. Daggerton, you wanted to speak?”
Daggerton placed his hands on the table as a show of dominance. “Jane, your concern for Sumton is so admirable. I love it. I’m all about bettering the city. I built half of it after all,” he said with a chuckle. “Sumton’s police force isn’t perfect, but why is reform necessary?”
“We’ve had shootings of unarmed citizens that shouldn’t have happened. Unarmed African Americans killed by police, three years ago we had three. two years ago, five. This year, eight. A troubling trend.”
Daggerton mulled over what was said for a moment before speaking again. “I’m all for positive change in the lives of African Americans in Sumton. I’ve donated thousands to black causes in the state of Ohio. But what about black-on-black crime?”
“What?” asked Mayor Major, puzzled.
“If we want to lower the deaths of African Americans in Sumton then we have to address that. More African Americans are victimized by their fellow African-Americans than they are by the police as I’m certain chief Barnsby can confirm.” Daggerton said, gesturing to Barnsby who was not expecting to be called upon.
“That is true,” Barnsby replied. “More blacks are killed by citizens than the police.”
“Should we be talking police reform with black-on-black crime being such a problem for the African American community? That’s a bigger issue,” Daggerton said.
“Mr. Daggerton, We’re not here today to-”
“And what about white-on-white crime? We cannot ignore that. We’d be being racist and that itself is abhorrent. There are more white murder victims in this town than black. We must equally consider the white murder victims. And the other minorities. We can’t forget them either.”
“You want to address all murder in this new legislation?” Mayor Major asked, writing that down in her notebook.
“Yes, but before we can focus on murder, shouldn’t we also talk about other violent crimes affecting Sumton. Rape, burglary, battery. What about those crimes? They don’t leave anyone dead, thank heaven for that, but they are still serious crimes that deserve consideration. More people are beaten than murdered in Sumton. We can’t forget them.”
“So, all violent crime then? I’ll note that down.”
“Violent crime, that’s a concern, yes. But what about the source of violent crimes? There’s a cause there. Wealth disparity. What drives a man to break into a car and not purchase one? Lack of wealth. I’m very concerned that if we just reform policing and go all in on crime, we’re not getting at the source of those crimes.”
“Wealth disparity is our primary concern?”
“Yes and no. Wealth disparity on one level is on the individual, but education plays its role, does it not? People aren’t learning enough to prepare them for life. How to balance a check book. How to budget. How to invest. We’ve got to educate our public. Our school systems need to have a good look taken at them, but before we can do that, we have to consider that a lack of funding could be the cause there. Are we allocating funds properly for the school system…”
Jane Major stirred awake. It’d been twelve hours since Daggerton had started voicing his concerns. Jane had drifted off to sleep halfway through Daggerton explaining that they had to be as equally concerned with the earth being destroyed by an asteroid and being engulfed by the sun one day. Only police chief Barnsby was still awake and writing down the concerns in his notebook which was almost full.
Daggerton was still going. “Should we only be concerned with things that exist? What about things that are not? We should give equal consideration to both. Things that are not currently in the state of existence could be as important as those things that are. We are inherently biased because we exist. Issues that don’t exist could be just as important as those issues that do exist, but because we’re on this plane of existence, we’re not concerned with them.”
“It’s eleven o’clock. Can we please go home?” the city planner asked desperately.
“Mr. Daggerton, are you finished with your concerns?” asked Mayor Major, cleaning up the pool of drool she’d made after falling asleep.
“No, I had more concerns,” Mr. Daggerton said.
“It is late. We can break. We didn’t make the progress I wanted, but we can meet again. Before we leave, Mr. Daggerton, did you have any solutions or ideas on how to go about addressing any of your concerns?”
“No. See you all next time,” he said, standing up and quickly moving toward the door.
Why had she ever invited him? Mayor Major asked herself this on her way to her car. She’d give an arm and a leg to go back and stop herself from inviting him to the first meeting. It was better to waste time fighting him than to waste it listen to him prattle on. Sadly, there was no backing out on him now. Daggerton and his unending concerns were a part of the team. Kicking him out would look worse than never having him in the first place. Mayor Major couldn’t think of a way out of this.
“Jane!” called out Daggerton. With his phone in hand, he ran up to her. His face, one of frustration and anguish. “My nephew, Artie. He’s in the hospital!” he said in-between gasps of air to catch his breath. “He was at one of those protests and some officers attacked him with a baton.”
“Yes! We must reform the police!” Daggerton declared. “Now!”
“What about your concerns?” asked Mayor Major.
“What about them? The police are out of control! Little Artie would never hurt a soul and they broke his face! Doctors are saying his nose is going to have be amputated. He was a beautiful boy who worked as a face model. Now he’s going to lose his livelihood. We can’t go home now!” he said. “You and I, we have to stay up and come up with a plan together.”
“I’m all ears,” she said.