An open letter to the City of Geneva:
In the space of just a month, news has hit the headlines about the Geneva Gendarmerie and workplace harassment and prejudice. On March 19, the Finger Lakes Times shared the story of Officer Patrick Nolin being harassed by fellow officers because of his health issues – depression stemming from a diagnosis of a degenerative and debilitating illness. And in a more recent edition of the FLT, the image of harassment and the threat of physical violence made headlines, this time directed at your colleague. May I remind you that you have all seen this picture. Where I work, I am an evaluator, like all teachers and counsellors; this means that I am mandated to report incidents like this to the appropriate offices. I assume you are also required to report such incidents to the appropriate office – but who would it be? Certainly not the police.
These two incidents, in the space of 30 days, demonstrate that the police service is mismanaged and, frankly, out of control. The portrayal of Councilwoman Salamendra was an act of meanness and an outright threat of physical harm. The asides, notes and leaflets addressed to Agent Nolin were malicious and intentional. But those directed at your fellow board member showed the depth of the threat — it wasn’t just an “incident,” it was premeditated and condoned by the department. Consider that not one officer spoke up, denounced. This means that either some are so intimidated by others that they become accomplices. Or that they completely agree with the picture.
The image, as I have said elsewhere, promotes femicide, it promotes violence against women, it normalizes violence, it actually normalizes rape culture. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – the police have, on average, a higher incidence of domestic violence compared to mainstream society. But this is an abstract statistic that could be disputed by academics and laypeople alike. This image, however, is real, scrolling across the workstation screen in the so-called “Public Safety Building” (where another woman was being held in a chokehold) where city employees and the public could see her.
There has to be some accountability (where’s that police accountability board?). Sadly, I’m sure some of you will laugh it off as a simple boyish prank. This is the problem. This is the basis of the culture of rape, of femicide, of violence directed against women. If, however, you read the publicly available FOIA documents, you will see that it is not just about some prank. It continues and demonstrates mismanagement and incompetence at all levels. These actions will cost the city legal fees; victims, if they sue, could receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements. And that embarrasses the city — who would want to work for the city or in the city if harassment is tolerated, if violence against women is ignored?
I remind you that the current budget of the police department is over $3.4 million. Thirty-three thousand dollars of that is budgeted for “training,” a fraction of which goes to wellness and bias training (if any – the line-by-line budget is very opaque). It’s 1%. May I remind you that the now defunct Police Review Board cost the city $120—yes, it’s a hundred and twenty dollars. It’s fiscal irresponsibility — and we see the results. There is no liability. And we see the results.
At the very least, the leader must resign or be fired. I’d go so far as to say you should tear up the so-called police union contract and fire the entire department – after all, no one has spoken up to report this. Rehire those who wish to uphold responsibility and decency. If you are unable to do so, then you are complicit. You must act for what is right, not according to a poll you have taken of your favorite constituents. Otherwise, you are complicit in this violence. And in fact the city, by its silence, is an accomplice. This is how police states begin.
James McCorkle is a longtime Geneva resident and frequent contributor to the Time’ review pages. These are his opinions protected by the First Amendment and do not represent any advice or institution with which he may be associated.