Law isn’t colorblind

What would happen if an elderly brown man punched a white youth in the back of the head at a Black Lives Matter protest or an All Lives Matter rally? We’ve seen what happens to people of color in situations like this, and the bottom line is, they are usually thrown in jail or worse, and they are rarely given the benefit of the doubt.

On June 14 the roles were reversed. An elderly white man punched a Hispanic youngster and his friends fought back. The kids who were there, including my 18-year-old daughter, gave the police statements.

Yet the event “went off without a hitch” according to the local paper.

The gravity of this event deserves more than a dismissive sentence next to a mention of a “dog that wailed” and some cars that “revved their engines.” This community deserves better from your reporting.

What actually happened: The truth, later fleshed out by the police blotter, is that the older man was a 62-year-old European American wearing a Trump hat. He followed the 18- to 21-year-old Hispanic American, African American and European American boys after overhearing a 20-year-old Latino say “F--- Trump,” and asked him to repeat himself before he blindsided him.

The police weren’t there to see the “dustup,” yet they charged the 20-year-old Mexican American with criminal provocation. His friends who retaliated in his honor were charged with the same crime as the 62-year-old: battery.

“We don’t take sides and apply the law as best we can,” said Lt. Roger Schultz in the police blotter on Buckrail, one of the only other digital news sources in our one-paper town. While I believe our police department has good intentions to keep the community safe, their response to this situation shows an antiquated approach to policing. Fortunately, we are not facing more tragic circumstances as a result.

Last time I checked, this country has a constitutional amendment protecting free speech that allows people to say whatever they want at a peaceful protest without being charged with provocation. In criminal law, provocation is a possible defense alleging a sudden or temporary loss of control as a response to another’s provocative conduct sufficient to justify an acquittal.

As it relates to battery, the law says a person is justified in using reasonable physical force upon another person to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of physical force. Hopefully, the judge will see this for what it really is.

The newspaper’s reporting of this event and the police’s handling of it is why these protests exist in the first place. If the provocation charge provides an excuse for the battery and the retaliating battery is not considered self-defense, it will be more of the same injustice.

The law is supposed to be colorblind but let’s face it, it is not. Let’s be real about racism and make sure we are reporting what actually happens so that when the colors of the people charged with crimes are revealed we can see the real truth.

Julie Fustanio Kling

Jackson Hole

(The News&Guide is continuing to cover the June 14 altercation. — Eds.)

Officer tip line idea

(This letter was addressed to Act Now JH and Mayor Pete Muldoon and is reprinted here with permission. — Eds.)

I want to share with you my idea of how to stop police brutality. I am a former law enforcement officer. I worked in Florida for seven years active and three on reserve. I have seen abusive cops. Every officer on every watch in every community has seen an abusive cop.

Change starts inside our law enforcement community. Fellow officers need to be given resources to report abusive incidents they witness. A way to report in confidence, so they feel safe from retaliation from fellow officers. I assure you: Fellow officers of those involved in George Floyd’s death on May 25 witnessed those officers being abusive long before May 25, but they never reported it. We should ask ourselves: Why didn’t they report it?

Ask yourself these questions: If an officer sees another officer be abusive to a citizen, who do they call? Who can they report it to? Will they be heard? Or do they remain silent in fear of retaliation?

Please take the donations you have coming in to immediately launch an “If you see something, say something” or “Me too” type of movement for those inside the law enforcement community. I would name the movement “Not on my watch.” Maybe a free hotline they can call to report officers they see being abusive to citizens. Make a movement to empower leaders in the law enforcement community to change contracts with unions that impede a sheriff’s or chief’s ability to fire abusive cops, or not rehire them.

Monroe County, Florida, recently fired an officer for racial comments. We need more police chiefs and sheriffs like this one who stand up against abuse. This is the solution. It starts from within. Good officers have to be empowered to report and chiefs and sheriffs empowered to fire these abusive cops. Not on my watch!

Thank you for trying to make a change. It’s been long overdue.

Jenni Sireci

Etna

Please enact mask rule

(This letter was addressed to Teton County Commission members and Mayor Pete Muldoon. It is reprinted here with permission. — Eds.)

I reached out a couple weeks ago to share an experience I had at the Cowboy, where the GM wasn’t enforcing the no dancing and no groups over 10 people at a table ordinances that were in effect until the 15th of this month. The reason? “There are more of them than us.” She didn’t feel supported to uphold the ordinances and was concerned about how it could look — not wanting to turn away business.

No business owner or manager should be fearing visitors outnumbering them to enforce the ordinances you put in place to care for the health of our community.

Now, a couple of weeks later, we have more business owners coming forward with stories of customers being downright disrespectful. Numerous business owners are stepping forward online sharing absolutely terrible incidents of customers arguing with them or even yelling at them, saying that they can’t require them to wear masks in their stores.

I know some business owners have reached out to you already. I want to support their requests by reaching out to you again, as well as the governor’s office.

Our business owners are exhausted from long hours, trying to catch up for lost time. They’re trying to keep a business open with new guidelines for their safety, employees’ safety, and customers. The last thing they need is to have to fight with customers who refuse to wear masks multiple times a day.

We can’t afford another shutdown, and we need to do what’s right to keep case counts down. By putting an ordinance in place (and enforcing it) we give store owners something to lean on instead of feeling like they’re in the fight on their own.

Just last week I defended a pregnant store manager who had a customer yell that “pregnant women can’t catch COVID.” It’s disgusting that she and so many other shop owners are being treated that way. I asked her after the other visitor left if this happens a lot. She said it was the fourth time that afternoon that someone had gotten so frustrated about the mask rules that they yelled at her. That doesn’t include the others who huffed and puffed a bit and walked out.

I know that independence and individuality are things we are most proud of as a state and a country, but right now we need to put the community and population’s well-being above individual preference. We simply can’t let more businesses go under because of a surge in COVID cases requiring a shutdown that could easily be controlled if only we put a rule in place 100% requiring masks be worn if social distancing can’t be achieved.

Please, I urge you to put an order in place to require face masks to be worn in public, in all buildings, where social distancing can’t be done. This ordinance should be in effect until we have cases truly under control and a vaccine available. Seeing the rise in cases in the last few days should be concerning all of us.

Please, for the love of our community, our small-business owners and each other.

Whitney Oppenhuizen

Jackson Hole

Downtown parking

Jackson’s Town Council, Mayor Pete Muldoon and our Chamber of Commerce have decided that our tiny downtown district needs to be completely revamped under the auspices of COVID and social distancing.

All the merchants have been shut down since mid-March and slowly and cautiously reopened in late May. The merchants’ pleas and ideas regarding the Town Council’s ridiculous and unnecessary proposals to make all of Center Street a one-way street with basically no parking doesn’t seem worthy of paying attention to.

Their main focus is Center Street. I had to dig through pages of Town Council agendas to find the maps for the changes they plan on making, whether the merchants on Center Street or the townspeople or our tourists like it or not.

Our elected Town Council and mayor seem to have no respect or consideration for the fact that we barely made it through to late May and are still struggling to make up lost revenue to pay rent, utilities and employees.

So, the council’s big plan: It wants to remove the parking in front of our stores, put up “parklets” (that’s not even a proper word in the dictionary) consisting of 18 feet of “flex” space for these parklets on the east side and a good 18 to 20 feet of expanded pedestrian walking and flex space on the west side of the street.

Our opinion: Why the hell are they trying to fix something that’s not broken? The downtown area has worked extremely well for the 50 years I have been in business.

The one handicap parking spot on the Town Square is on the west side of Center Street. Where will that go? The stagecoach goes north on the lower part of Center Street, around the block and back up heading south on Center Street. What kind of congestion is that going to cause if it has to move to Broadway or Cache? The plan is illogical and has not been thoroughly thought through.

Merchants are providing hand sanitizer and masks in their stores to their customers, the employees are wearing masks, the tourists coming to town are wearing masks, and if they choose not to that decision is on them.

Perhaps the mayor and his troop of four council members should try coming downtown and actually see for themselves how well the town is working, and support the merchants once in a while instead of imposing their ideas on us.

The stores are finally making sales and the customers are all happy to be able to come to our quaint little town and are having so much fun. I have not had one customer say they felt threatened or unsafe here.

Carolyn Hines

Jackson

See the remainder of this letter and more at JHNewsAndGuide.com

So, why is the town spending over $17,070 on picnic tables for parklets, plus more money on separation planters and delineators and barricades for the parklets but most importantly taking away our precious parking spaces.

And, by the way, their original idea for parklets was for the merchants to take our merchandise out onto the street! That was the dumbest idea anyone ever had — I am not dragging expensive jewelry and fine crystal glassware out onto the street every day, Willcox Gallery is not dragging heavy bronzes and precious artwork out, Hide-Out Leather is not going to drag her nice leather merchandise out, and on and on.

Rainstorms or windstorms blow in quite often, and I am renting my space on Town Square — not in the street — and I do not plan on having to hire extra employees man a parklet on the street or clean up all of the trash that will be left behind from people sitting around on picnic tables.

If this Town insists that our boardwalks are too narrow on Center Street, go over to the boardwalk where Suda, Moe’s BBQ, Merry Piglets and Liberty Burger are; that boardwalk is 3 foot, 3 inches wide and there are always hordes of people standing outside waiting to get seated! That area is COVID haven for 10 to 11 hours a day; no one has on masks because they are going to eat. The boardwalk on Center Street is 6 feet, 3 inches wide.

In case the council hasn’t noticed parking downtown is at an all-time low since Town gave the go-ahead for the Center Street Hotel. Construction workers take up the entirety of King Street from Deloney to Gill, almost all the public parking lot on Deloney and in the Home Ranch lot! Now that town has re-established 3-hour parking downtown the owners and employees of the downtown businesses are having an impossible time finding anywhere to park every day; but, I absolutely do not allow my employees to park on the Town Square or down the side streets, only in the public lots.

The council touts 283 parking spots in the parking garage. That is four blocks from downtown, the entire upper level is for airport parking, and in our eyes that garage was built for the convenience of the Center for the Arts, not us downtown merchants. When I leave here at 10 or 11 at night I am not walking by myself clear up to that garage. Plus, many of my customers are elderly and they cannot walk several blocks.

We absolutely do not want parking for our customers taken away, period! It’s a waste of taxpayer time and money and the town is functioning very well as it is.

Carolyn Hines

Jackson

Wasting money at 440 W. Kelly

After months of agonized discussion about the financial devastation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Town Council approved a sensibly reduced Town budget. Yet, last Monday, Council casually parted with a $1.7M taxpayer investment without even the most basic financial information and approved the ground lease at 440 W. Kelly Ave. (now called “Kelly Place Condominiums”). The ground lease typically documents what the developer will provide in return for being awarded the lease on the property. This is what council rushed to approve:

A ground lease that provided no financial information and does not state who the lessee is. Exhibit D “Financial Verification” is a blank page. There is no pro forma, no verification of financing. In fact, no financial information is provided, other than the 1 and 2 bedroom units will cost $300 or $600K.

A ground lease that conveniently hides the requirement that a minimum of 12 units will be constructed. This may be setting the stage for an even larger project if/when the financials don’t work out.

A ground lease showing a basic schematic facade and ground floor site plan but no other essential details about the apartment building. No information is provided on anticipated square footage, height and mass of the building, let alone essential aspects such as snow removal, trash, storm-water drainage, etc.

A basic schematic showing 18 parking spaces, which translates to 0.8 parking spots per bedroom. Who has .8 of a car? Six of the parking spots appear to be blocked when the parking lot is full.

Rudimentary drawings that were submitted by new architect. Did the Developer change architects? If yes, isn’t that something that the public should have been made aware of? And, if the architect for the project has changed, shouldn’t there be a new review process or RFP process?

None of these concerns were addressed at the meeting. Two councilors suggested that the vote be delayed until many of these questions could be answered. However, three town councilors chose to disregard this and so, despite highly uncertain economic realities, council approved a project with virtually no documentation: no financials, an unnamed lease holder, and minimal design details. Is this the transparent, sensible, fiscally responsible government that we deserve? No. This sets a completely irresponsible precedent and gives a Developer carte blanche on a project that will have a lasting impact for many years to come.

Perri Stern

Jackson

Letters to the editor should be limited to 400 words, be signed and include a town of residence and a telephone number for verification. Letters are due by 5 p.m. Monday. No thank yous or political endorsement letters. Guest Shot columns are limited to 800 words. Email editor@jhnewsandguide.com.

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