Solidarity with Douglas County Public Library

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Dear Director Dodson, and Library Board of Trustees, and Douglas County library workers: 

We write to you as members of your community, as fellow library workers confronting the daily horrors of the global pandemic. Thousands of libraries and library workers are grappling with the chaos of reorienting services, keeping staff and patrons safe, safeguarding intellectual freedom and privacy, and supporting social, unemployment, and health care services that our leaders have systematically destroyed over the last forty years. At the same time, we’re hopeful about the energy that has lit up the streets unceasingly for the last two months in defense of Black lives. Many of us have joined this struggle, and a number of our professional organizations have written statements supporting the demands of Black Lives Matter. 

These are among the reasons why we were appalled to read the words of Douglas County Sheriff Daniel Coverley. Sheriff Coverley’s letter is too perfect an example of the abhorrent norms law enforcement sets for itself at every level. His behavior -- a reaction to the library’s simple consideration of signing onto the Urban Libraries Council’s Statement on Race and Social Equity -- is horrifying and inappropriate from a state official. The sheriff’s stated threat to abandon his duties and ignore calls for help breaks trust between the library and the communities it serves. As the library’s purpose and many of the tenets of the ULC Statement align, it is obvious that the Sheriff’s Office takes particular political issue with the claim that Black Lives Matter. This not only reveals the Sheriff’s Office’s desire to politicize a claim to humanity and worth, but also likely reveals the Office’s approach to policing the 1% of the Douglas County population who identify as Black.

Douglas County has the worst racial disparities in arrests in the state of Nevada. An ACLU report released in April shows that a Black person is 21 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person there. In 2001, future Sheriff Coverley choked and assaulted a Gardnerville man during an arrest -- lifting him off the ground by his neck -- resulting in an excessive force lawsuit. Sheriff Coverley is also open about selectively enforcing laws that he doesn’t agree with politically, such as background check laws.

We understand what kind of pressure the library is under given the national attention on this story, but we are here today to offer our solidarity and support, and encourage the library not to give in to the outrageous demands of this bully. We urge you to stand up against Sheriff Coverley’s bullying, and support you and the library in signing onto the ULC diversity statement, and join us, your colleagues, in proudly affirming that Black Lives Matter. Standing against all forms of racism, hatred, inequality and injustice is part of the values of librarianship as illustrated in the American Library Association’s interpretation of the Bill of Rights,

“V. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

American society has always encompassed people of diverse origin, age, background, and views. The constitutional principles of free expression and free access to ideas recognize and affirm this diversity. Any attempt to limit free expression or restrict access to ideas threatens the core American values of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Libraries should establish and maintain strong ties to organizations that advocate for the rights of socially excluded, marginalized, and underrepresented people. Libraries should act in solidarity with all groups or individuals resisting attempts to abridge the rights of free expression and free access to ideas.”

Where Douglas County Library’s claim that Black Lives Matter offers a public invitation to the already heavily policed Black people in Douglas County, the Sheriff’s Office equivalence between diversity statements and dangerous library conditions reinforces racism and likely reveals a deeper thread of ongoing racism within the department. While no one, patron or library staff, wishes to be in an emergency situation without a set procedure for addressing an emergency, it does seem likely that many of the library’s Black patrons and other patrons of color would actually find the library more inviting when it is not policed by officers who find a diversity statement to be the same as a threat to the law. 

The controversy in Douglas County will act as a touchstone for libraries who wish to make similar statements or to redirect their own practices around utilizing policing over other available resources. We laud you for advocating for the library’s public alignment with the ULC Statement under intense pressure, and hope that your library, and libraries around the country, will soon benefit from a redistribution of resources where no single city or county department has the political and financial weight to make a similar threat to not respond to emergency conditions. While you have distanced the library’s use of the ULC Statement from calls to defund the police, from an outsider’s perspective it appears you made this statement under duress.

We believe that no civil servant -- no one period -- should be subject to such thinly veiled threats and we stand with you.

Yours, for peace and justice,

[Click here to see the original letter to the library board - with fact checking annotations added by the Factcheckers of The Abolitionist Library Association]