The Douglas County, Nev., public library wanted to take a stand this week: “Everyone is welcome,” read a proposed diversity statement, which added the library “denounces all acts of racism, violence and disregard for human rights. We support #BlackLivesMatter.”
“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,” Coverley wrote in a letter to the library published Monday. “I wish you good luck with disturbances and lewd behavior.”
A county spokesperson later told the Reno Gazette Journal that despite the sheriff’s statement, deputies would continue responding to calls from the library. After a follow-up meeting with the library’s director on Tuesday, Coverley blamed the stress protests have put on police for his response.
“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 his follow-up statement on Tuesday. “My response was rooted in my belief that these issues need to be openly discussed in a way that values diversity and law enforcement.”
As police and public officials around the United States grapple with ongoing protests against police brutality and racial inequality that began after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, the role of the Black Lives Matter movement in public spaces has been particularly contentious. Debates over street murals and statements of support for the movement have roiled some local governments.
But Coverley may be the first police official to threaten to withhold emergency services over a Black Lives Matter argument.
Douglas County Public Library Director Amy Dodson said the library’s proposed statement was meant to emphasize everyone is welcome there, not as an anti-police sentiment.
“It simply was meant to state our inclusivity at the library, that we are open and welcoming to everyone and we treat everyone equally,” Dodson told the Gazette Journal.
The proposed language echoes a pledge signed by 180 public libraries backing open access to the facilities regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation and decrying racism. “We resolutely assert and believe that all forms of racism, hatred, inequality and injustice don’t belong in our society,” the proposed Douglas County statement read.
One day before a meeting to discuss the language, Coverley, who was elected sheriff last year, posted his piece blasting the library on his department’s official site. The sheriff’s missive largely lifts verbatim from a letter to Congress last month by 11 state attorneys general and two sheriffs associations, citing disputed statistics to argue police are not “systemically racist or structurally biased.”
Coverley added to that argument in his letter by claiming Black Lives Matter protests have caused “violence, property damage and the closing of local businesses.”
After he published his broadside, the library canceled the Tuesday meeting to discuss the diversity statement, citing an “overwhelming amount of community response."
Instead, Dodson and Coverley met and later released a joint statement.
“Sheriff Coverley and I had a very candid conversation,” Dodson said. “We agreed that we both support the people of Douglas County and this may have been an unfortunate circumstance of misunderstanding.”
The library said it will bring the statement back up for a public debate at a later date to be determined.