Gazette-Mail editorial: No room for racism in WV police, Guard (Opinion)

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“Peaceful protesting. I would start firing live rounds. Bunch of animals.” read one statement, followed by “I’d see how many I could run over before my car breaks down ... get out of the way.”

Those were social media posts from Winfield police officer and West Virginia National Guard member Noah Garcelon, regarding the protests and clashes with police (complicated by the chaotic element of criminal looters) that have been taking place across the nation since George Floyd was suffocated to death by a police officer in Minnesota.

Garcelon resigned after he was confronted about the posts, according to Winfield Police Chief Ron Arthur. The National Guard also said it would pursue disciplinary action. It’s unclear if Garcelon was given the choice to resign or face termination in Winfield, or if he resigned on his own after realizing the unprofessional and horrible nature of what he said. Hopefully, he realized how terrible those statements were and recognized his own staggering lapse in judgment in making such comments as a police officer.

Arthur said Garcelon had not yet been through required training at the West Virginia State Police Academy. The police chief said he believes Garcelon wouldn’t have made such statements had he completed the training, adding that Garcelon said he is not a racist. Even if Garcelon didn’t intend a racist connotation, dehumanizing minorities is on the first page of the bigotry playbook, and words like “thug” or “animal” are often deployed for such purposes.

It’s good the young officer was confronted and it was made clear that type of thing is not tolerated on Winfield’s police force. Given the demographics of the relatively small Putnam County community, it’s unlikely that a mass protest on race relations requiring police presence would occur, but this incident is indicative of the larger problem.

Americans have seen several incidents in recent years where a white police officer has harmed or killed a minority when the situation could have easily been diffused in another manner. And there have been plenty of examples of bad judgment by those in authority, even in West Virginia. It was only a few months ago that a photo surfaced of a class of state corrections officers giving a Nazi salute. They were all fired. Reports showed that most of the cadets didn’t intend to be offensive, but a “sieg heil” doesn’t leave much space for interpretation, especially when flashed by an entire group of people who will be responsible for guarding inmates.

There’s no room for racism or the will to harm masses of people on any West Virginia police force. Nor should it be tolerated in the National Guard. It’s impossible to know if Garcelon would have turned his words into action as a Winfield police officer, but it’s better to know, now, that he won’t get the chance.

Funerals for Saturday, July 4, 2020

Hinzman, Mary - 3 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.

Payne, Gregory - Noon, Brookside Ministries, Mt. Carbon.

Spaur, Annette - 1 p.m., John H. Taylor Funeral Home, Spencer.