Suppose you gave a demonstration and nobody came — at least, almost nobody.
The United States Capitol Black Police Association expected 50 to 200 people to protest what it has described as an unfair, discriminatory and hostile work environment.
Thirty minutes after the appointed time, fewer than a dozen protesters stood under a tree outside the Capitol, looking like tourists seeking shade.
“Fear of retaliation” was the reason so few participated, according to Sharon Malloy, vice president of the association.
Fear of retaliation against employees is real in the federal government, but would that alone account for such a poor turnout?
“We talked to well over 100 people and got a commitment,” she said. “They said they would come, and then they didn’t show up. I wish I could shake the fear out of them.”
Despite the showing, the issues are serious for those who took the time to attend the demonstration, such as it was.
Malloy loved being a cop. She recalls “the officers, the public, the mission. The people motivated me to come to work.”
But she also remembers feeling like the system was stacked against her and other African American officers. Malloy, who resigned in 2007 after 25 years of service, became one of the first black female lieutenants on the force in 2004. It was just last year that the first black females became captains.
The fact that it took 176 years, from 1828 when Congress created the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP), for a black woman to reach lieutenant is just one example of the racist environment African American officers say they have faced on the force.
Derrick W. Macon, a Capitol Police sergeant, was among the protesters. His complaints include being hit with a disciplinary letter for unnecessary celebration — raising his arms and saying “Thank you, Jesus” — at his promotion ceremony.
Malloy had an armful of statements with a list of complaints against the police force. Among them:
●There is “pervasive, hostile, and discriminatory treatment committed against African American officers and employees by the United States Capitol Police.”
●A 12-year-old lawsuit by black police officers “alleged and identified a plethora of illegal acts, to include, but not limited to; irregularities and inequalities in the promotional process, discrimination in assignments, hostile work environment, unfair discipline and overt racism.”
●There is a “continued hostile environment” as evidenced by “comments made by white officers of the United States Capitol Police” including racist references to President Obama and victims of Hurricane Katrina. “In most organizations, this would be unacceptable. Unfortunately this type of behavior is status quo with the United States Capitol Police.”
Shennell Antrobus, a USCP spokesman, had this response: “As America’s Police Department, we strive to employ and retain a highly skilled workforce as diverse as the public we serve. To achieve this goal, the USCP places the highest premium on individual capabilities and qualifications and ensures all employment actions are administered without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, disability, or military status, in accordance with all applicable Federal laws. Chief [Kim] Dine, who took over in December, has a long and proven history of outreach and working with minorities.”
In March, the department issued a statement “reiterating its affirmation of equal employment opportunity and diversity,” Antrobus added. The statement said the agency was “steadfast in our efforts to ensure that a discrimination-free and harassment-free environment exists at all levels of the Department.”
Joseph D. Gebhardt, whose law firm represents the officers, said that although the lawsuit is 12 years old, his clients believe “that racial inequality is continuing.”
What they want, he added, are “systemic improvements so that the promotion process is more transparent and more fair” and a way “to ensure that the assignments of officers are done in an equitable manner.” They also want back pay for missed promotions.
How much money? “We don’t know for sure,” Gebhardt said, but predicted that a settlement could “run into the millions. Maybe that’s what’s causing problems in getting to the settlement table.”
The long fight might be taking its toll.
Looking at the few protesters, Macon said, “a lot of them are just burned out.”
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.