A Statement on Mrs. Kanagy and Safety Director Baum
This past Monday, at the City Council meeting, an inappropriate line was crossed. As you’ve likely seen from the story in the Newark Advocate, a citizen named Jen Kanagy (a close friend of mine) spoke about the issue of homelessness. Mrs. Kanagy is a co-founder of a local charity organization called the Newark Homeless Outreach. She and our mutual friend Patricia Perry established this effort about a year ago because they saw a growing need for help to provide warm food and clothing (at the very least) to these disadvantaged souls. So, starting last February, they set up on the corner of Buena Vista and East Main every Saturday morning and have since seen that they are serving dozens of people each week.
Recently, the Outreach was told by some of their homeless patrons that a small tent city was destroyed, supposedly by our police officers. Jen wanted to get to the bottom of this and she also wanted to address the horrendous nature thereof by shining public light upon it. So, she decided to speak about it at Council. In her comments this past Monday, she CLEARLY stated that the accusation aimed at Newark police officers was not her own suspicion - because she had no direct proof -, but rather that the accusation is what had been offered to the Outreach when they asked those affected what had transpired. All Jen said was that she had hoped that the matter could be investigated and that – if the accusation proved to be true – the City Government should feel some compassion for these people.
Like me, Jen has profound respect for our police officers, as we love all safety forces. Jen herself isn’t only a volunteer for the homeless, but she is a nurse as well. Compassion and helping those in need is ingrained in her DNA. Likewise, her ex-husband (the father of her daughter) was in law enforcement, and Jen would never unjustly throw anyone from this profession under the proverbial bus. Yet, Safety Director Baum – who is not elected, but appointed by the Mayor (who is up for re-election) – felt compelled this past Monday to verbally attack Jen by intentionally misrepresenting what she said and attempting to use that against her; claiming that she was using an attack on our officers to attain “15 minutes of fame”.
Why would he do this? Because Jen Kanagy happens to also be a candidate for City Council at-Large alongside me. After he spoke, Jen attempted to approach Director Baum to clarify what she said and he rudely told her to “walk away”. He knew that Jen and no other citizen would have no opportunity to respond right away because of how the Council’s rules work. Moreover, he knew full well that his comments – presented while being fully aware that Jen is a candidate for local office – were political in nature. He simply could have denied any knowledge of the incident, promised to look into it, and then returned to where he was standing. However, he felt that it was appropriate to politicize his position and use it to undermine Kanagy’s credibility as a candidate.
It doesn’t matter if Jen Kanagy is a candidate for office. She is still a citizen with the right to speak out against injustice. She still has a right to demand answers on behalf of the people she helps as well as her neighbors…and daughter. Our law enforcement ought to be respected and praised for their hard work and dedication, but they are also doing a job as part of OUR government. This notion that we can’t ask questions about their conduct or even criticize their actions (when warranted) is ludicrous. It is NOT anti-police to be critical of police. If it is, then does it mean you are anti-teacher to criticize a school or a single teacher? Does it mean you don’t love your children when you reprimand them? Absolutely not. Our safety forces are brave and decent WORKING CLASS people trying to provide for their families just like the rest of us, but they also work for us, and they should be fully accountable to us.
I know quite a few police officers. I have happily worked with a number of them at the store where I am employed for the past six years. One of those officers is a good friend of mine. My father was a military police officer, and I have several other loved ones who were in the military and law enforcement. However, I do not believe that ANY position is above criticism or scrutiny. Putting on a uniform does not mean you have free reign to commit any act with impunity. It is a privilege to serve your community in any capacity, and that privilege is – or ought to be – dependent on your respect for the law, code of conduct, and ultimately the community itself.
Safety Director Baum was out of line to lash out at Mrs. Kanagy, when all she did was present this case for the City to look into. He politicized his office which should never be politicized so as to do damage to a candidate for office, and he knows it. It is incumbent upon him to apologize to the people of Newark for this misuse of the title he holds – a privilege bestowed upon him by we the people of Newark – and he should apologize directly to Mrs. Kanagy for unjustly attacking her and intentionally twisting her words. It would also be appropriate for City Council to condemn the incident in question as well as the comments by the Safety Director.
Newark’s police officers – and all of our safety forces – deserve the utmost respect. They are understaffed and overworked. They likewise deserve to be led by a nonpartisan official who will not hide behind them while using their service as a wedge against political opponents. We, the people of Newark, deserve better.