Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Chasing David Pepper

Two weeks ago I sat in Sunday Service, enjoying the singing and the overall feeling that is joy in Church on Sunday; of being with family and friends and the sense of God and prayer and the anticipation of our upcoming Sunday dinner.

I was sitting in one of the lower balcony seats and as I'm listening a man walks into the service and takes a seat a few rows from the front.

I turned to the man next to me and ask, "Am I trippin' or is that David Pepper?" We could only see the back of the man's head but the bearing, the hair, the moderate view of the profile we could actually see...

"Yeah. I think it is. Wonder what he wants?"

Now I've seen David Pepper in public several times, but this time, Mr. County Commissioner was on my home turf. This church has been my second home since before I could walk.

I was going to give that man a piece of my mind.

I took out a pen and started scratching out my top three issues I have with David Pepper. Once I outlined them, I prioritized them thusly:

1. The Jail Tax
Election Day, November 2006, Hamilton County Voters said no to a new jail and the tax increase that the Commissioners asked for to build it. County commissioners David Pepper and Todd Portune, waited about 6 months and in a 2 - 1 vote against their fellow Commissioner Pat DeWine, they voted to institute the tax anyway. Amid cries of foul play and "taxation without representation" Pepper and Portune merely pointed out that as elected representatives of the county, they were entirely within their authority to enact this tax. Their reasoning is that people here want a new jail but a) don't understand why a new jail is needed or b) want a new jail but don't want to raise taxes to build or maintain one. Unfortunately, Pepper and Portune will not point to reason C, which is...

2. The Pot Law (and other Kangaroo Court issues)
You simply cannot go to traffic court or civil court (for evictions) in this city without noticing that the majority of people there are black people and the remainder are white folks who are poor. Racial profiling is alive and well in Cincinnati with poor whites coming a very close second as the cops main target. David Pepper drafted and still supports his unsuccessful "pot law". Despite a promise to retire the law if it could be proved to lead to unnecessary arrests (it has) and to unfairly target minorities and the poor (it does), David Pepper not only has not pushed for the law to be retired, but pushes forward for a new jail, not taking into account that the supposed "overcrowding" may be caused by draconian unjust laws and jailing folks who shouldn't be there.

3. Spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt
Using buzzwords and phrasing to make affluent citizens afraid of minorities and the poor is wrong. Every time David Pepper and Todd Portune threaten that violent criminals will have to be released in order to make room for new prisoners, they spread FUD unnecessarily. They know, I know and you know that violent criminals will not be released no matter how "crowded" the jails become. They also know that they've done a poor job of proving that the jails are crowded in the first place and that much bandied contract with Butler County to house Hamilton County prisoners isn't just a ploy to "prove" that Hamilton County jail space is lacking.

Pepper and Portune think we need to build a whole new jail in order to provide counseling and treatment to prisoners. They fail to recognize that Hamilton County voters have no need to trust them after the Stadium Tax issue, the Drake Hospital fiasco, the failed and still failing Banks Project, the "misplacement" of millions of Department of Human Resources funds and lastly, their refusal to listen to the voters last November when we voted NO on the Jail Tax issue in the first place.

David Pepper and Todd Portune are WRONG for not listening to the voters and dead wrong for doing an end run around them. It's only through the hard work of the Anti-Jail Tax coalition that this issue will be back on the ballot in November and the Commission need not bother threatening to cut other programs because the don't get to build their jail. They need to go back, dig deep, cut the cord from their corporate buds and get back on the side of the people.

And so, there it was. What I wanted to say in a nutshell. And I was going to buttonhole him until he heard everything I had to say.

Service ended and he walked up to shake hands with the pastor and then quickly walked toward the back of the church. I raced from the balcony, took the back way past the choir room to avoid the crowd. I glanced across the lobby and saw him headed out the door! All Sunday decorum lost, I literally sprinted across the lobby. "David!" I shouted, and everyone turned to look at me but the man I was pursuing.

I finally reached him, put a hand to his shoulder, he turned and smiled...

It wasn't David Pepper.

I felt a little sheepish, but I realized immediately that he had no idea why I'd touched him. I simply apologized as if I'd brushed him by accident, which he obviously though I had done.

"Excuse me, sir."

"No problem," he smiled again and went, not through the outer door, but into the other vestibule where the bathrooms were. No one else was even looking in my direction. Everyone was greeting family and friends as always after church, gathering children who were daring each other to dip a finger into the fountain and lamenting the heat. I crossed the vestibule to my own waiting family, smiling...

Next time, David Pepper.

Next time.

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