They sat together amid the vacant seats near the front, this odd couple united by their distrust of the Glendale City Council. Emzy Veazy III and David E. Wallis Jr. have been called gadflies, and every city needs a few.
These allies have distinct viewpoints, and other differences as well. Veazy is a 43-year-old unemployed African American whose business card identifies him as a “rugged individualist,” among other things. On this day he was dressed casually and toted a video camera, expecting to record an abuse of civil rights. Wallis is 57, well-to-do and white, though he prefers the term “Anglo-Saxon.” He’s a retired Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer who has twice waged unsuccessful campaigns for elective office.
They had come to challenge Mayor Eileen Givens’ noble experiment to make Glendale a friendlier town and spruce up its image. Not to paint with a broad brush, but Glendale, as the mayor knows, has long suffered from an image of what may politely be described as ethnic intolerance. Givens appointed a task force that drew up a list of proposals, most notably the creation of a “community response team” to comfort the victims of hate crimes and decry such acts.
It is said that you can’t legislate morality, but only two days after the task force announced its proposals, its strategy was put to a test. Six orange swastikas were found on Temple Sinai, Glendale’s only synagogue. The mayor, police chief and City Council promptly pitched in with paint rollers and words of support. It was the talk of the town.
But Emzy Veazy didn’t want to discuss Temple Sinai. He handed the camcorder to Wallis and stood before the council. Why, he wondered, weren’t there any blacks on Givens’ task force?
It’s a good question. Why is it that blacks--who after Armenians have been Glendale’s second-most-frequent target of hate crimes since 1986--were unrepresented on the panel?
Gadflies often raise good questions. Unfortunately, diplomacy is seldom a strong suit. Wallis aimed the camera as Veazy delivered his diatribe.
“I give Mayor Eileen Givens’ secret meeting and anti-black people Blue Ribbon Task Force on Community Relations the thumbs down and call it a prejudicial group which represents a high crime against humanity!” Veazy declared.
“Mayor Givens, you and your rude hate crime task force members need to be renamed the OK No Blacks Task Force in Our Community Relations. It is Glendale historically at its best to continue to send out to the community and the world that Glendale prides itself in excluding black people from full participation, as it does exclude its civic-minded council watchers.”
Veazy, the only regular “civic-minded council watcher” among black Glendale residents, wondered why he wasn’t appointed to the mayor’s task force. The answer seemed obvious.
Next came Wallis’ turn, with Veazy serving as cameraman. Someday, all of this may appear on the Glendale public-access cable show that Veazy produces.
Wallis’ delivery was measured and professorial. Unlike Veazy, who argued that Givens’ project didn’t go far enough, Wallis argued that she went too far, calling the task force an “overreaction” that should be disbanded.
“As an American of Anglo-Saxon ethnicity and democratic tradition,” Wallis said, “I strongly object to political propagandizing and overreaction with regard to special-interest groups, including ethnic or religious ones. I want city government to carry out city functions, such as ensuring that the streets are clean. . . . It is not a city function to organize to ‘denounce’ anyone or anything. . . . The city should not overextend itself into social do-gooding beyond its competence, nor overreact to its detriment. . . . The therapy is worse than the disease!”
The odd couple. One levels charges of racism. The other wonders what all the fuss is about.
Veazy and Wallis failed to make the City Council see the light. Councilman Sheldon Baker drew applause after angrily slamming into Wallis’ suggestion that swastikas at Temple Sinai should not be a concern of the City Council. Councilman Larry Zarian rose to the defense of Givens, who said she chooses not to respond to personal attacks. Representatives of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce took time to laud the task force proposal. The vote was 5-0 to adopt the recommendations.
But the questions linger.
Why weren’t there any African Americans on the task force? The mayor says she tried, but admits that she did not try hard. After all, for all its ethnic diversity--the city has large Latino, Armenian and Asian populations--Glendale remains less than 2% black and is therefore short on black community leaders. Givens says she is hopeful that African Americans will participate on the community response team proposed by the task force.
Then there’s Wallis’ question. Is the therapy worse than the disease? Wallis worries that the anti-hate campaign will backfire, inspiring hard-core bigots and perverse pranksters.
Indeed, Wallis suggests that, were it not for the task force, the swastikas at Temple Sinai may have never appeared. Many people speculate that the vandalism was an answer to the task force proposals and the presence of the synagogue’s rabbi, Carole Meyers, on the panel.
In an earlier address to the council, Meyers delivered what in retrospect may be considered a rebuttal to Wallis’ views. Whatever the vandals’ motive, she said, the community is wise to condemn such deeds.
She reminded the council that, seven years earlier, Temple Sinai had to confront a similar desecration on its own.
“There was no plan like this--and nothing happened,” Meyers recalled. “We quietly and quickly scrubbed the swastikas. . . . We thought we had done a good job. . . . Then we entered our sanctuary and mourned and grieved in silence.”
This time, Temple Sinai was “grateful beyond words” for the way that the symbols of hate inspired acts of kindness and brotherly love. And Temple Sinai, the rabbi added, won’t forget its friends when it is their time of need.
I asked Emzy Veazy III whether he had videotaped the rabbi.
Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.