Oh, Donald Maynard, what hath thou wrought?
Maynard is a black firefighter-paramedic apprentice with the Baltimore Fire Department, but he won't be for long. He's been suspended, pending termination.
On Nov. 21, Maynard walked into the Herman Williams Jr. fire station at East 25th Street and Kirk Ave. and showed a noose and a note he said he had found. The note read: "We cant hang the cheaters but we can hang the failures. NO EMT-1, NO JOB."
The word "cheaters" and the phrase "NO EMT-1, NO JOB" referred to a controversy within the department. Leaders of two firefighters unions said there had been cheating on recent promotion tests for captains and lieutenants. The highest scorers on the tests were black.
The Vulcan Blazers, an organization that represents black firefighters, accused the union leaders of racial motivations, but a subsequent investigation revealed that cheating more than likely occurred, and not just among blacks who took the test.
Earlier this year, hip-hop "bling" decorations hanging from a deer's head at the Herman Williams Jr. fire station led to charges of racism. Those accusations proved unfounded.
Then came the November incident. Here's how some in the city reacted:
Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, said the noose and notes were threats and that the matter "had to go federal," as in the guilty party being charged with a federal hate crime.
Henry Burris, president of the Vulcan Blazers, said, "Whoever perpetrated it, whether they know it or not, this has reached the level of a federal hate crime."
Mayor Sheila Dixon said she was "outraged by this deplorable act of hatred and intimidation. ... Threats and racial attacks are unacceptable anywhere - especially in a firehouse."
Subsequent investigation revealed it was Maynard who put the noose and the note in the fire station. How did Cheatham, Burris and Dixon react to this news?
Cheatham: "It really saddens us to hear that evidently things have reached a stage that even an African-American does an injustice to himself and his own people as a result of a negative culture in that department."
Burris: "I'm extremely upset. I believed [Maynard] was telling the truth."
Dixon, through her spokesman, Sterling Clifford, said that she was "pleased to find out that, in fact, there wasn't a threat of that nature made" and that she was "disappointed" in Maynard.
Let me get this straight: As long as the suspect was thought to be a white guy, this incident was a threatening act of hatred and intimidation that warranted calling down the wrath of the feds. But since it turned out to be a black guy, now Cheatham, Burris and Dixon are saddened, upset and disappointed. Whatever happened to Burris' assessment of the situation?
I'll run that by you again, in case you didn't get it the first time.
"Whoever perpetrated it, whether they know it or not, this has reached the level of a federal hate crime."
It strikes me that Maynard comes under that category of "whoever." And I'm not alone.
"Whether it's a black member of the department or a white member, it's still a hate crime," said Stephan Fugate, who's president of a union for Baltimore's fire officers. "If I had put the noose there, whatever penalty would have been directed at me should have been directed toward Mr. Maynard as well."
Fugate also believes that Dixon's initial comments added to racial tension in the neighborhood where the fire station is located. White firefighters, Fugate said, are still taking heat from hostile black residents. Clifford said the mayor has no response to Fugate's allegations.
"Everything was done exactly the way it needed to be done," Clifford said. "Every person thought it was the worst-case scenario."
Well, not every person. Fugate, who from the start was one of the few voices of reason, urged that people use caution and not rush to conclusions. It turns out he was right.
Fugate also demanded an apology from Cheatham and Burris. He got it from Cheatham, but not the public apology Fugate wanted.
Cheatham said he visited the fire station Wednesday and delivered his apology in person.
"Rather than go through the media thing, I decided to go speak to them man to man," Cheatham said. Cheatham said he's also trying to set up a meeting that will include him, Fugate, Burris, Dixon and Richard Schluderberg, president of Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734.
"The work of the Fire Department is too important," Cheatham said. "We need to get together and iron out our differences."