Stop Firing the Innocent

Stop Firing the Innocent(ˈinəsənt)

America needs a reckoning(ˈrek(ə)niNG) over racism(ˈrāˌsizəm). Punishing(ˈpənəSHiNG) people who did not do anything wrong harms(härm) that important cause(kôz).

By Yascha Mounk

As companies and organizations of all sorts have scrambled(ˈskrambəl) to institute a zero-tolerance(ˈtäl(ə)rəns) policy on racism over the past few weeks, some of them have turned out to be more interested in signaling their good intentions than punishing actual culprits(ˈkəlprət). This emphasis(ˈemfəsəs) on appearing rather than being virtuous(ˈvərCHo͞oəs) has already resulted in the mistreatment(misˈtrētmənt) of innocent people—not all of them public figures or well-connected individuals with wealth to cushion(ˈko͝oSHən) their fall.

What happened to Emmanuel(əˈmanyəwəl) Cafferty is an especially egregious(əˈɡrējəs) example. At the end of a long shift mapping underground utility(yo͞oˈtilədē) lines, he was on his way home, his left hand casually(ˈkaZHo͞oəlē) hanging out the window of the white pickup truck issued to him by the San Diego Gas & Electric company. When he came to a halt at a traffic light, another driver flipped him off.

Then, Cafferty told me a few days ago, the other driver began to act even more strangely. He flashed what looked to Cafferty like an “okay” hand gesture(ˈjesCHər) and started cussing(kəs) him out. When the light turned green, Cafferty drove off, hoping to put an end to the disconcerting(ˌdiskənˈsərdiNG) encounter.

But when Cafferty reached another red light, the man, now holding a cellphone camera, was there again. “Do it! Do it!” he shouted. Unsure what to do, Cafferty copied the gesture the other driver kept making. The man appeared to take a video, or perhaps a photo.

Two hours later, Cafferty got a call from his supervisor(ˈso͞opərˌvīzər), who told him that somebody had seen Cafferty making a white-supremacist(so͞oˈpreməsəst) hand gesture, and had posted photographic(ˌfōdəˈɡrafik) evidence on Twitter. (Likely unbeknownst(ˌənbəˈnōn) to most Americans, the alt-right(ôlt) has appropriated(əˈprōprēət) a version of the “okay” symbol for their own purposes because it looks like the initials(iˈniSHəl) for “white power”; this is the symbol the man accused(əˈkyo͞ozd) Cafferty of making when his hand was dangling(ˈdaNGɡliNG) out of his truck.) Dozens of people were now calling the company to demand Cafferty’s dismissal(ˌdisˈmis(ə)l).

By the end of the call, Cafferty had been suspended without pay. By the end of the day, his colleagues(ˈkälēɡ) had come by his house to pick up the company truck. By the following Monday, he was out of a job.