Updated July 28, 2020 - 9:23 pm
A diversity statement that a local library district in Northern Nevada was set to discuss Tuesday drew a harsh rebuke from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, which said in a letter that any endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement would “support violence.”
The diversity statement was on the agenda at a Douglas County Public Library Board of Trustees meeting before the session was canceled. Library director Amy Dodson said the session was canceled because there was high public interest in the issue and the library could not accommodate the amount of anticipated public comment.
Before it was called off, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office posted a lengthy letter addressed to the library denouncing the Black Lives Matter movement and indicating the department would no longer respond to 911 calls at the library. The bulk of the letter from the Sheriff’s Office, which was signed by Sheriff Daniel Coverley, appears to be copied word for word from a letter dated June 22 that was sent to leaders in Congress.
But the final two paragraphs of Coverley’s letter, which references the Black Lives Matter movement and threatens to not respond to 911 calls from the library, do not appear to be copied.
“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,” the letter said. “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.”
Dodson said the statement on the agenda was drafted collaboratively by the library’s staff and was on the public agenda for Tuesday’s planned session. She said the board could have voted for or against the motion, or made changes as they saw fit.
“I was surprised by the sheriff’s response because we have a really good relationship with the sheriff’s office,” Dodson said. “We support and appreciate all the great work they do for us and the statement was not intended to be against them or any other law enforcement. We love our first responders.”
Dodson said the presence of the statement on the agenda was “completely appropriate and routine,” as the board regularly discusses a variety of topics in their meetings.
A follow-up statement posted on the sheriff’s office website Tuesday withdrew the threat on 911 calls and said officials were meeting with the library director “to try and understand the intent of their proposed diversity statement.”
“Sheriff Coverley would also like to take this opportunity to clarify that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office will continue to respond to all 911 calls, including those at the library,” the statement said.
Threat called ‘open commentary’
Coverley was quoted in the statement as saying, “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.”
The four-paragraph diversity statement that was to be reviewed during Tuesday’s meeting mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement only once and did not reference law enforcement.
“Everyone is welcome at the Douglas County Public Libraries,” read the beginning of the diversity statement. “We offer free and equal access to information, services and programs for everyone regardless of race, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, political persuasion, disability, status, national origin or income level.”
The diversity statement went on to say that the library system “denounces all acts of violence, racism and disregard for human rights.”
“We support #Black Lives Matter,” the diversity statement said. “We resolutely assert and believe that all forms of racism, hatred, inequality, and injustice don’t belong in our society.”
The proposed statement also indicated that the Douglas County Public Library has “joined more than 170 public libraries” by signing the Urban Libraries Council’s Statement on Race and Social Equity.
The letter from the Sheriff’s Office, which was more than twice as long as the proposed diversity statement, opened by saying that the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer, who has since been charged with murder, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes and “shined a national spotlight on bad actors within the law enforcement profession.”
“At the same time, data simply does not support claims that law enforcement is systemically racist or structurally biased,” the letter said.
Of the 28 sentences in the sheriff’s letter, 28 appear to be copied either word-for-word or partially from the June 22 letter.
The letter the sheriff appeared to have copied was addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. It was signed by 11 attorneys general, along with the Western States Sheriff’s Association and the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Association.
Letter: Most police shootings ‘justifiable’
All of the data mentioned in the letter was also outlined in the June 22 letter.
The letter said that the “vast majority” of fatal police shootings in 2019 were “justifiable, and most involved an armed or dangerous subject.” It also said that last year, police shot and killed nine “unarmed black persons” and 19 “unarmed white persons.”
While the sheriff’s letter did not cite those statistics, footnotes in the June 22 letter indicates the numbers of “unarmed” white and black people killed by police was taken from the Washington Post, which has a database of all fatal police shootings since 2015. However, the letter does not take into account instances where someone was armed with a toy weapon.
The letter also does not address that the Washington Post in 2016 reported that Black Americans are killed by police at disproportionate rates, and that Black people are “2.5 times as likely as white Americans” to be shot and killed by police.
“White people make up roughly 62 percent of the U.S. population but only about 49 percent of those who are killed by police officers,” the Washington Post reported in 2016. “African Americans, however, account for 24 percent of those fatally shot and killed by the police despite being just 13 percent of the U.S. population.”
The sheriff’s letter also had a partially copied sentence stating that “recent history confirms that when myths about the police are not strongly repudiated by our local, state and national leaders, law-enforcement officers lose their lives.”
In the letter, Coverley also stated that the number of officers “shot and killed in the line of duty” increased by 56 percent in 2017, “following a national rebellion against law enforcement — like what we are experiencing today.” That statistic in the June 22 letter was taken from a December 2016 NPR article.
“The Black Lives Matter movement openly calls all law enforcement corrupt and racist on their website,” the letter said, later stating that, “To support this movement is to support violence and to openly ask for it to happen in Douglas County.”
Dodson and Coverley met Tuesday afternoon to discuss what their offices called “an unfortunate circumstance of misunderstanding.”
“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,” Dodson said in the statement. “The library respects and supports the work of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and appreciates everything they do to keep our community safe.”
Coverley added that he reacted strongly to the proposed diversity statement because he is passionate about his department’s work.
“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,” Coverley said in the statement. “My response was rooted in my belief that these issues need to be openly discussed in a way that values diversity and law enforcement.”