Last December, police in Windsor, Virginia, stopped the Black Army medic Caron Nazario in uniform as he was driving his brand new car, and then pepper-sprayed him.
Now the town has released a statement about what happened. The statement is notable in that it talks about many things that happened, but hardly any of the sentences explain who did what. As a result, it reads as entirely passive and evasive. The failure to take responsibility makes the statement not only ineffective, but shameful.
Analyzing the statement from the town of Windsor
Here’s the press release, published yesterday, with my analysis.
Press Release on Police Stop of December 5, 2020
FROM: TOWN OF WINDSOR, VIRGINIA
DATE: APRIL 11, 2021
RE: POLICE STOP OF DECEMBER 5, 2020
The Town of Windsor, Virginia, acknowledges the unfortunate events that transpired on December 5, 2020 involving Lt. Caron Nazario and officers of the Windsor Police Department, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker.
Right away, you can see this is going to be evasive. Consider the word “unfortunate,” which cues us up to understand that this was just bad luck all around. The town “acknowledges the unfortunate events that transpired,” which basically says, “shit happened.”
The pursuit and ultimate stop resulted in the use of pepper spray against Lt. Nazario by Officer Gutierrez. As a result of this use of force, Department policy requires an internal investigation to determine the appropriateness of such actions. The investigation of this event began immediately. At the conclusion of this investigation, it was determined that Windsor Police Department policy was not followed. This resulted in disciplinary action, and department-wide requirements for additional training were implemented beginning in January and continue up to the present. Since that time, Officer Gutierrez was also terminated from his employment.
This is a breathtaking example of passive writing, perhaps the most magnificently passive paragraph I’ve ever read. This sentence by sentence analysis shows that every sentence is hiding something.
- “Resulted in the use of pepper spray against Lt. Nazario by Officer Gutierrez.” Why not just say Gutierrez pepper-sprayed Nazario?
- “Department policy requires an internal investigation.” Who investigates?
- “The investigation of this event began immediately.” How soon? Who began it? Who conducted it?
- “It was determined that Windsor Police Department policy was not followed.” This is a nested double passive. It fails to say who determined the result, or who failed to follow policy. (Use the zombies test to verify the passive: It was determined by zombies that Windows Police Department policy was not followed by zombies.)
- “This resulted in disciplinary action . . .” What action? Who took it?
- “Department-wide requirements for additional training were implemented.” Who implemented them? What were the new requirements?
- “Officer Gutierrez was also terminated from his employment. ” Who terminated him?
The Town of Windsor has remained transparent about this event since the initial stop, and has openly provided documents and related video to attorneys for Lt. Nazario. The Town will continue to provide information related to this event in its commitment to openness. The Town has also requested an investigation of this event by the Virginia State Police, and joins with elected officials who have called for a full and complete review of the actions of these officers.
These simple, declarative statements are quite a contrast to the previous paragraph. Of course, the subject of all the sentences is “the Town of Windsor.” Do towns act transparently, provide documents, request investigations, or join with elected officials? Or do people do those things? Which people?
The Town of Windsor prides itself in its small-town charm and the community-wide respect of its Police Department. Due to this, we are saddened for events like this to cast our community in a negative light. Rather than deflect criticism, we have addressed these matters with our personnel administratively, we are reaching out to community stakeholders to engage in dialogue, and commit ourselves to additional discussions in the future.
Why is the town saddened? Not because they assaulted a Black guy for driving a new car. It is saddened because the assault destroyed its image of small-town charm.
Imagine for a moment that you were Lt. Nazario. How do you feel about the “small-town charm” of the town and the “community-wide respect” of its police department — and its pride in those qualities?
It’s a shame that “events like this” tarnish the town’s image. The word “events like this” once again implies that, somehow, stuff just happened on its own, and no one is responsible.
As for “rather than deflect criticism” — this whole press release is an exercise in deflection.
Addressing matters administratively is not an alternative to deflecting criticism. Neither is engaging in dialogue or committing to discussion.
For more information, please contact Town Manager William Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the first mention of a town official by name, and it occurs at the very end of the statement.
The fundamental contradiction inherent in this statement
This statement does two things.
First, by its spectacular and universal evasion, the statement makes it clear that the town and its officials aren’t accepting responsibility for the problem. In charming small towns like Windsor, by definition, incidents like this are just “unfortunate.”
Second, it suggests that the town and officials deserve praise for opening up dialogue about what happened.
Can you see how the first thing undermines the second?
Next time you write something defensive like this, consider how it sets back everything that you are trying to accomplish. Tear it up and start again.