Look At This F*cking Hitler
Ding dong, the Nazis are gone.
Last month, a photo depicting 31 graduating West Virginia corrections officers doing a Nazi salute, with the caption "Hail Byrd" for one of the students' instructors, became public. Now, all of the cadets, the instructor they were saluting, and two other staffers from the Corrections Academy have been fired. Four additional instructors who saw the photograph and failed to report it to their superiors have been suspended with pay. And the Anti-Defamation League has been asked to help prepare Holocaust education for future Corrections Academy courses.
SHOCKINGLY, an investigation confirms exactly what we all expected it to.
According to the report from Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Jeff Sandy, the cadets in Class #18 began doing the open-hand salute to instructor Karrie Byrd as "a sign of respect." Although two other instructors reprimanded the cadets after seeing them use the Nazi salute, Byrd reportedly reassured the cadets that it was fine, and encouraged them to keep doing it.
According to the report, Byrd "encouraged it, reveled in it, and at times reciprocated the gesture." Although other instructors reprimanded the class for acting like vile Nazis, "Byrd appeared to overrule the corrective actions taken by others and assured the cadets the behavior was acceptable."
The "Hail Byrd" picture was taken by and at the direction of lnstructor Byrd. Multiple cadets reported the photo was taken several times due to not everyone participating in the gesture.
Ten of the cadets reported they did not make the gesture until Byrd told them to. These cadets stated that they only did it at that time due to fear of not graduating for disobeying the direction of an instructor. Seven of those cadets, in order to comply with Byrd's direction but not make the gesture, held up a closed fist.
Yeah. The instructor insisted on taking the photo multiple times, until every cadet had saluted her like she was Hitler. Amazingly, one of the courses taught by instructor Byrd was "Cultural Diversity." Sounds like a great class. I can't wait to see that syllabus.
Shockingly, although Byrd told investigators that she didn't realize the implications of the Nazi salute, that was complete and utter bullshit.
The class photographs, including the "Hail Byrd'' picture, were forwarded to a member of the secretarial staff as is the normal procedure. The secretary reported asking Byrd "What are you all doing in the picture?" Byrd responded with "look there is nothing wrong with it, we have people of all colors and backgrounds in the picture and every one of them are participating." The secretary stated that Byrd directed her to caption the picture "Hail Byrd." The secretary remarked that Byrd told her "that's why they do that because I'm a hard-ass like Hitler."
Laughably, the report also praised "the transparency exercised in the handling of this unfortunate event," saying "[t]he citizens of West Virginia should be proud" of how it was handled. It should be noted that DMAPS has still refused to release an unredacted copy of the photo or the names of the the officers and cadets involved, in a likely violation of West Virginia's Freedom of Information Act. Transparency, indeed.
Overall, however, the response from state government has been surprisingly good. Amazingly enough, Republican Governor Jim Justice, who fancies himself Trump's BFF, didn't attempt to defend the wannabe Nazis in the photo. Even the union that represents West Virginia correctional officers has been shockingly quiet.
When the photo first became public, Justice called it "distasteful, hurtful, disturbing, highly insensitive and completely inappropriate" and called for the termination of anyone found to be involved with it. Announcing the terminations on Monday, Justice said:
As I said from the beginning, I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class 18 in the strongest possible terms. I also said that this act needed to result in real consequences – terminations and dismissals. This kind of behavior will not be tolerated on my watch in any agency of State government.
Mike Pushkin, a Jewish member of the House of Delegates, said he agreed with the decision to terminate the cadets.
I feel that the Governor and Secretary Sandy did the right thing by terminating the cadets and the instructors who were involved. I feel like they really had no choice, I feel that they had all disqualified themselves from working in corrections. Giving them every benefit of the doubt, it's still a serious lapse of judgment.
Corrections officers, like police officers, are entrusted with keeping the peace. Their actions can, quite literally, have life or death consequences. Corrections officers are entrusted with keeping ALL of the people under their care safe from harm. Prisoners and detainees have a constitutional right to be kept safe from violence, whether the violence is coming from corrections staff or other prisoners.
It's right that the people involved with this photo have been fired. But it's entirely likely -- if not probable -- that Karrie Byrd and these cadets found their actions acceptable due a larger culture within DMAPS that doesn't value the humanity of the people they are supposed to protect.
This incident also speaks to some of the failures of our educational systems at all levels. As noted by Delegate Pushkin,
The thing to me that's really mind-boggling is people claiming they didn't know the significance of the salute. If that's the case, I think that we have really failed in educating people about the atrocities of the Holocaust. I think it's important to teach just how bad things can really get when we stop seeing each other as human beings.
By statute, West Virginia is supposed to have a Holocaust education commission. It has sat inactive so long that it needs to be recommissioned. By statute, we are supposed to be educating people on the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. And stuff like this is why.
With these terminations, the state has taken an important step. And hopefully it's just the first step of many.
Read the full report from Secretary Sandy:
They shouldn't have fired the guys doing the power fist though.
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