Monday, January 22, 2007

Wray, Oedipus, Race, and Fate

After reading the N&R's latest installment in the story of former police Chief David Wray, it was hard for me not to think of a Greek tragic hero like Oedipus; Wray's story seems to be full of bitter irony.

The N&R story explains to me what had previously seemed inexplicable: how a man like Wray, who was publicly devoted to helping ease Greensboro's chronic disease of race-based resentment, could get caught up in what looked like a race-motivated persecution of a black officer.

The (alleged) answer: he thought Lt. Hinson was a dirty cop, but, lacking dispositive evidence against him, couldn't fire him without igniting a race-resentment conflagration. So he doggedly kept after that evidence, and sought it in ways that eventually cost him his job and his reputation.

Wray's story seems to have the essential arc of a Greek tragedy: a good man makes a serious mistake which entangles him in his own destruction.

Take Oedipus, who was bent on discovering the killer of his father Laius. In Oedipus the King, he becomes obsessed with finding the killer and pursues clues ruthlessly, against the counsel of his advisers, until he discovers that he himself was the killer. He is ruined and disgraced.

It's a tragic irony that Chief Wray may have become a bad cop out of an obsessive desire to collar a bad cop, and acquired a reputation as a racist out of his efforts to avoid a race incident.

I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that no matter what issue you're dealing with in Greensboro, no matter how small, and no matter how fine you chop it, race resentment, both white and black, is there.

Like fate in the tragedies, if you're a public person, it can bring you down, and if you try to resist it, it will bring you down even harder.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very good analysis of exactly what happened to David Wray. He could have avoided the turmoil by assigning the investigation of Hinson to then Deputy Chief Scales or Assistant Chief Bellamy both of whom are African American but he failed to do so because then Assistant Chief Brady convinced him that he could not trust the African Americans to go after Hinson. Race again plays a factor.

Anonymous said...

I think we all need to know the facts in order to come to the proper conclusion. The only facts you have are the ones that the news and record are printing.I think we need to get un unbiased listing of all the facts in this investigation from both sides.The news and record is only showing one side of the story.Did they mention that LT. Hinson was raising money for charity and having the money sent to his address. Look at the rhino times articles and you will see a different story. I AM NOT SURE WHICH OF THESE STORIES ARE CORRECT. We need to know all of the confirmed facts in order to make up our minds. In my opinion this does not have to do with race at all. It smells like a dirty cop to me. Check the facts !!

Joe Guarino said...

Anonymous, why should he have had to do that? If he had, why should that have made a difference?

David Wharton said...

Anonymous II, read my post again. I have not drawn definite conclusions about Wray, and the language I used clearly communicates that.

As to the race issue, I think you missed my point. It looks like Wray avoided firing Hinson because he didn't want to provoke a racial incident. If true, Wray was motivated by a fear of black racial resentment.

Anonymous said...

I know a few people who lived in Wray,s neighborhood growing up. They all have said the same thing about him. They have said that he always liked to have his ducks in a row. Maybe this is why he was waiting for the right evidence to come in on the Hinson case. These people have also made comments that he was not a racist.These racist comments are coming from a dirty cop who almost got caught.He had to use race as a reason to get the heat off of him and on Wray. Look at the facts. Would you want this guy protecting your neighborhood?

Anonymous said...

It would have made a difference if one of the African Americans lead the investigation because it would have taken race out of the picture and they both were experienced investigators who would not have made the same mistakes Brady did.

Anonymous said...

The entire matter only became a racial issue because Wray did not have any diversity in his close circle of confidants. Wray did have diversity in the staff and none of his minority commanders ever referrred to him or anything he ever did as racist. There was a quote in the paper over the weekend from one of the former black commanders that states Wray bent over backwards to avoid any resemblance of racism in his administration.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully one day we will be able to hear from the officers who work forthe Gboro police. It will be nice to hear what they think of Wray and Hinson. I am sure one day this will come out. Hopefully after the investigation ends we will hear the truth.

Joe Guarino said...

Anonymous I, a police chief should not have to select who handles an investigation to "take race out of the equation." And we can only speculate what would have happened had the two individuals you cited handled it. Presumably, they would have followed their boss'orders. But all of that is really conjectural.

David Wharton said...

Joe, the world in which "a police chief should not have to select who handles an investigation to 'take race out of the equation'" would also be a world in which we wouldn't need police chiefs at all, because it would be a perfect world.

But until the Kingdom of Heaven arrives, police chiefs and everyone else are going to have to take account of race.

Joe Guarino said...

David, I actually understand that. (In fact, I have previously argued that sort of point-- that Greensboro's next police chief has to be black, partially based on the premise of taking race out of the equation.) But it should not have to be that way, and my opinion is that Wray's refraining from doing what Anonymous I suggests is not nearly, by itself, evidence of wrongdoing.

In the Bledsoe series, there were statements made regarding internal interference with previous attempts at investigation or discipline within the force. Perhaps Wray was, based on that experience, trying to avoid that. If Bledsoe's contention was true, then Wray's actions could be better understood-- particularly if there was a perception there might be something very big brewing.

Jim Rosenberg said...

Facing the power of race to divide, David Wray tried to control the situation and painted himself into a corner. Leveraging the power of race to divide, Skip Alston manipulates situations and keeps himself in power. Denying the power of race to divide, Tom Phillips ignores situations and keeps us from turning a corner. Surely, there are others who want to do something other than control, manipulate, and ignore, right?

Joe Guarino said...

And the solution, Jim, for Wray? The solution was that, to preserve his job, he would have had to look the other way. (And by the way, I am not sure that Tom Phillips, given the political and ideological composition of the council, has the power to keep anyone from turning any corners.)

Jim Rosenberg said...

Joe, I don't know. I am amazed at the mindshare being given to dissecting this one historical instance of a larger ongoing problem. As a fan, I'm grateful for the opportunity to read 20 installments of anything Jerry Bledsoe writes, but what has my interest is who will step up to move us forward and not who is more marginally culpable for holding us back. If every single person in this town paid every spare moment of their time paying attention to every detail of the David Wray case, do you really in your heart of hearts have any doubt that when it was all over, we'd look up and see the same people on opposite sides of the room? I don't, so I won't.

Anonymous said...

David,

I appreciate your thoughtful post.

I have maintained all along that Wray was not racist but he did made some fundamental mistakes which caused the City Manager/Council/Staff to lose faith and justifiably question things. I thought the N&R article was well balanced overall to my surprise.

What I still find disturbing is the continued Bledsoe articles which have gone about 10 articles too long for my taste and for the good of the Community. Obvioulsy we have a right to know what happened but at what cost and to who's reputation. I realize all the facts are not known but I think the Rhino bias has really been exposed on this one to their own detriment. What detrimnet you ask. I recently spoke to two small business owners where I shop and picked up the Rhino. Both had removed it from their facility and stated they were pulling future ads from the weekly. Why? Complaints from customers that it was full of hate speech. If they ever lose real estate ads, they will have the relevance of the Charlotte Rhino which is minimal at best.....I used to live in Charlotte and trust me, no one in government cares about it down there. It is just one of the many weekly's toiling in anonymity.

Joe Guarino said...

Jim, you are correct that there is a great deal of attention being paid to the Wray case. I think, based on some folks with whom I have spoken, that this reflects how severely the matter has offended the sense of justice that many folks have.

But from the standpoint of whether it helps us move forward, or holds us back, I just don't know. The scourge of identity group politics reigned supreme in this town long before the Wray case. It will continue to be a potent force as long as there is financial and political gain associated with maintaining it-- and as long as local elected officials, Republican and Democrat, acquiesce with it.

Talking about the Wray case certainly will not make that terrible situation worse. Perhaps discussing it may somehow make the situation better in the long run. The previous approach of failing to discuss these matters openly certainly did not work.

Jim Rosenberg said...

Joe - We are in the umpteenth chapter of Jerry's historical look at the Wray case. Along the way, we've made day trips to November 3, 1979 and had a very smelly sleepover in the News & Record's dirty laundry room. Every week, people are pouring over this historical detail. You are even been excerpting it. As usual, there is all this amazing interest and energy around placing blame and confirming preconceived notions about race in Greensboro. You see identity group politics. I see other things. The river rolls on. When it comes to discussing the TRC report, or anything that requires people to let go of their judgments and take a leap of faith together, the interest stops dead cold. All of the sudden, it's a "waste of time," "part of the past," "a crock," -- too "backwards looking." Clearly, it's not the direction that's the problem. It's the focus. People are loving the look backwards as long as what they see is familiar. I don't know who is right or wrong in the Wray case. I don't even understand the question. I would just like to see people on both sides of the divide divert even a fraction of the energy they currently devote to meticulously footnoting their own particular shade of racial bitterness. This feels like a late-career Tyson fight to me -- all this competitive hype, but when it's all over there is no clear winner and it all feels like a setup for the rematch which you know is coming and you'll have to pay for it.

Joe Guarino said...

Sometimes, it is necessary to oppose bad ideas, wrongheaded ideas. Sometimes it is necessary to shine the light of day on wrongdoing and misplaced priorities. The alternative, as I noted above, is to allow them to continue to predominate-- as they have for so many years.

That is not an expression of bitterness. That is called doing the right thing. I do not think we should be afraid of it.