- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2000

There is a firestorm brewing around the Metropolitan Police Department, and it centers on an op-ed column that ran in the Jan. 24 editions of The Washington Times. Written by Carl Rowan Jr., a former FBI agent and longtime observer of D.C. public safety, the column was highly critical of the police force in general and of its black chief and white assistant chief in particular. Mr. Rowan also said in his op-ed piece that at least one member of the advisory group impaneled to search for a new chief in 1998 had initially wanted to hire a white chief, but thought that might not play well in this majority black town.

Troubling as that charge is, the media are not focusing on it or on the big picture Mr. Rowan painted. Instead they have zeroed in on two sentences.

Chief Charles Ramsey, Mr. Rowan wrote, "still leaves the running of the department to [Assistant Chief Terry] Gainer, a man who lacks human relations skills and displays intolerance of original thoughts from subordinates that differ in any way from his own. He also has a problem with African-Americans that borders on racism, having sarcastically told a white friend of mine that promoting black officials is a necessary evil because 'we have to give them their little piece of the world.' "

Those are fighting words because they were purportedly spoken by someone who is expected to be as colorblind as justice itself. Then again, ignore the color of the messenger and listen to the message. It essentially means that race and ethnicity can be more important criteria than qualifications. In other words, we are talking about a quota system here. Such a system will always cause resentments and injustice.

One must consider the sources. Mr. Rowan said he was quoting a white friend of his, while Chief Gainer said he "unequivocally" denies ever making such a comment. Whom do you believe? The writer, Mr. Rowan, who was one of the people who helped arrange the hiring of Chief Ramsey in the first place? Or Chief Gainer, whose responsibility it is to run the day-to-day affairs of the Metropolitan Police Department?

For his part, Chief Ramsey is standing by his top cop. On WTOP radio on Wednesday, where the chief was a guest and Mr. Rowan a caller, the chief implored Mr. Rowan to produce the accuser. "Give me a name," Chief Ramsey said on more than one occasion during the call-in. Mr. Rowan did not.

To be sure, if Chief Gainer said what Mr. Rowan alleges he said and he said it in the context Mr. Rowan implied, then Chief Gainer has a serious matter to account for, quota system or not. The District has suffered far too long at the hands of a police department torn apart from the inside. And now, with crime and murders on the decline for three straight years, the perception that this city is indeed safer is lost in the controversy.

Also lost is the broader picture of a demoralized police department painted by Mr. Rowan, one where confidence in the leadership is waning fast, and where that leadership is said to be more concerned about public relations than the well-being of its people. These are serious charges. And they all merit debate, not just the most racially charged of them.

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