Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Different Drummer

Sometimes it's appropriate for a newspaper columnist to look at the world from an easy chair, within arm's reach of his bookcase. Other times, he needs to get out of that chair and stick his head out the door to see for himself what's what.

The trick is to know when to do which.

Reginald Dogan of the Pensacola News Journal does both, from time to time. But today he really blew it. He leaned back in his chair and reached for a book when he should have headed out the door for Pensacola Beach to take a look at the SRIA's EEO-1 hiring records.

The apparent burden of Dogan's column is to publicly agonize over the recent fracas at the Ft. Pickens parking lot. As he sums up the evidence, which happens to be available to the whole world on Youtube:
The Escambia County Sheriff's Office called the gathering of mostly black teenagers and young adults a "mob scene" that sparked a "near-riot."

The young folks at the beach said the Sheriff's Office sent a cavalry of "aggressive" and "nasty" deputies to prevent them from having a good time on a public beach.

The truth lies somewhere in the muddled middle of this mess.
* * *
Did deputies overact? Probably. Did the crowd intimidate and incite them? Most likely.

After a lot more 'on-the-one-hand-this, on-the-other-hand-that' stuff, the PNJ columnist reaches the startling conclusion, "[W]hen it comes to resisting authority and disobeying police instructions, I have to stand on the side of the law."

Now, there is a waste of ink. But wait! He goes further. He abruptly elevates the Pensacola Beach incident to nose-bleed heights by addressing weighty issues of morality and social reform:
Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" advocated the need to prioritize one's conscience over the dictates of laws. In it, Thoreau introduces the idea of civil disobedience that was used later by Mohandas Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

But the difference between civil disobedience and mob revolts and rebellions is as different as a rose and its thorns.

Civil disobedience is orderly and nonviolent. Rebellions are unruly and violent.

I will, in a heartbeat, disobey and protest an unjust or immoral law. But what took place Saturday on Pensacola Beach was not civil disobedience. It was anti-social behavior that could have led to serious injuries and even death.

Good god. From a couple of misbehaving street punks to Mahatma Ghandi?

Here's the tragedy: incidents like that of last Sunday have happened before on Pensacola Beach. Many times. At the same location. For nearly identical reasons. And they always seem to take island authorities by surprise.

And the response, as we saw in Michael Stewart's follow-up article yesterday, is always the same: "Beach To Get More Deputies..." a week after the surprise.

Year in and year out several thousand predominantly minority high schoolers and older companions from Mobile descend on the beach in May to celebrate the end of the school year and the start of summer. Year in and year out, word spreads within the local minority community, aided by local radio stations or indy record studios or some hot new music group or another, and a crowd predominantly composed of young people of color appears on the beach "suddenly."

Such crowd surges always seem "sudden" -- but are they really? Only to those who don't happen to listen to the same radio stations, read the same neighborhood newspapers, attend the same schools and churches, or move in the same social circles.

Unfortunately, that includes nearly everyone who works at the Santa Rosa Island Authority and the Escambia County sheriff's substation.

Dogan's half right when he notes, in passing, that the SRIA "requires a permit to hold an organized party or event on the beach." What he doesn't realize is that for others -- mostly others who are Caucasian, by the way -- it's always possible to streamline the SRIA permitting process or even avoid it altogether.

We've seen it happen almost instantly for everyone from antique car clubs to UFO nut cases; from visiting soccer tournament teams to legions of military recruits released for a weekend of revelry; from island resident association picnics to last-minute stock car races; and, of course, for vast crowds of gay and lesbian visitors who once made the whole island their own over Memorial Day weekend -- and may yet do so again.

Indeed, many times the SRIA solicits groups who are known to have a potential interest in visiting Pensacola Beach.

The ugly truth is that in Northwest Florida the races coexist in almost entirely separate universes. Each community knows almost nothing about what's happening in the other. In one instance we witnessed not that many years ago, for nearly two weeks in advance a Pensacola 'rap' radio station was broadcasting invitations to gather at Pensacola Beach. Yet, when a crowd showed up (one much larger than that of last Sunday), the SRIA and sheriff's deputies said they were "surprised" and overwhelmed.

As Dogan consults the Transcendentalists to better understand the problems that periodically pop up at the Ft. Pickens parking lot, he could do worse than read Henry David Thoreau's Walden. In a concluding chapter there, the sage observes, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer."

Minority youths in the Pensacola area hear drummers unknown to the SRIA. This is largely because, aside from the occasional clerical worker, the SRIA's affirmative action hiring record is as dismal as they come. The agency has never hired an African-American manager, supervisor, tourism specialist, hospitality coordinator, or anyone else in a position to reach out and work with minority communities, near or far.

Not that such a position necessarily should be filled by a minority applicant. We would guess there are plenty of others who bridge the divide. But they, too, will remain unknown to the SRIA until the agency finally awakens to this reality:

The greater Pensacola area is multi-racial. The beach belongs to everyone, regardless of race. Just as much effort should be expended to anticipate, accommodate, and even invite racial minority visitors to the beach as the Island Authority now spends attracting others.

If no one on the SRIA staff today marches to that drummer, then additional personnel who can do so need to be recruited.


panicbean said...

The greater Pensacola area is multi-racial. The beach belongs to everyone, regardless of race. Just as much effort should be expended to anticipate, accommodate, and even invite racial minority visitors to the beach as the Island Authority now spends attracting others.

That being stated we would like to add:

We would find it pleasing if while attempting to discuss the issue with fellow citezens, they would refrain from using the term, "chicken bone beach", for once and always.

We are not from here, we just happen to love living here, so do us a favor, and stop thinking as well as saying that, please.

It says a lot about you (not the blogger you) but the you, as in the community you.

Chris Olson said...

Overall, this a a great re-cap of Dogan's piece, but I don't think the SRIA's hiring practices are tied to out-of-control parties on the beach.

Chris Olson said...

I meant to say analysis instead of re-cap.

katty said...

I love the drummer sound, i feel energizer every time that i listen music where the drummer is notable. i think any band could be sustainable itself without a drummer.
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