By Robert Chappell/Madison365
Portage County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Daniel Kontos posted a meme mocking African American names Saturday to the Facebook page of the Portage County Sheriff’s Office in Central Wisconsin. Kostos deleted the meme and posted a lengthy, angry and sometimes sarcastic explanation about two hours after Madison365 first reported this story.
The meme was posted at 5 a.m. Saturday, labelled as “A little weekend humor for you …” It purports to make fun of police officers calling in to dispatchers and taking care to spell out easy, common names but not less common ones. It uses “Tawneequa” as the uncommon, strange name.
More than 175 comments had been made by Sunday morning. Many note the racism inherent in singling out “black sounding” names while others downplayed it.
“How is this racist? You’re racist for assuming Tawneequa is a black name,” says one comment.
“Wow. That racism is really a bad look,” says another.
In his response, Kontos said the meme was just meant to be a harmless joke and that there was nothing wrong with it.
“You see because the name used was ethnic sounding (and uncommon), a few people immediately denounced it as racist,” he wrote. “Wait, what? You got it. We are racists, because the post used an uncommon name (which was the whole point of the post.) Who did this foul and unforgivable thing? Well, I did. It was one of the last posts I did as I closed up shop after staying late that day and went home for the week. So, I guess I’m the racist. Huh, go figure.”
He said he was the victim of “electronic bullying.” He did not apologize for the meme.
“I am going to pull down the post now, not because there is anything wrong with it, but because the cyber-mob (many who don’t even live around here) doesn’t need a forum to display THEIR racism,” he wrote.
That post drew more than 800 comments before it, too, was deleted on Monday morning.
In a “formal response” posted to her Facebook page, Portage County Supervisor Meleesa Johnson, who also serves as President of the Stevens Point City Council, condemned the meme.
“I am deeply saddened by the meme that was posted on the Portage County Sheriff Department Facebook page. And I am even more saddened by the response from Deputy Chief Kontos,” she wrote. “Both lacked any sense of dignity or sensitivity. Both are not what Portage County is about … The response should have been three short words: We are sorry.”
“I replied on the Sheriff’s page that I did not feel that the original “meme” posted reflected well on Portage County Govt,” County Supervisor Bob Gifford wrote in an email to Madison365. “And I did not feel that it reflected my views and attitudes … I hope that some progress will come out of this. I do think that community-law enforcement relations can be improved in every Wisconsin city using some sort of (facilitated) citizen-enforcers’ education process.”
Official or Unofficial?
The Facebook page’s description claims the page is “an UNOFFICIAL fan page created so volunteers at the Sheriff’s Office could disseminate important information and items of general interest to the public.” However, the Sheriff Department’s website has a “Follow us on Facebook” button, which links directly to this “unofficial” page. Further, the “unofficial” Facebook page lists www.co.portage.wi.us/sheriff as its website, and lists the sheriff’s office address and telephone number, and is categorized as a law enforcement agency, not a fan page.
And Chief Deputy Kontos put his name on the response post, admitting to having posted the meme while on duty.
“(The Facebook page is managed) typically by the Chief Deputy himself. Some posts are contributed by whomever,” wrote someone managing the Facebook page’s Messenger account Sunday. They declined to identify themselves. “The (Facebook page) description is in the middle of a rewrite adding a better description of the services that were added to the Sheriff’s Office a few months ago. Those that work on the page volunteer to do so.”
They referred any further questions to the Chief Deputy, who was unavailable Sunday.
“Personally, I think it somewhat disturbing that ‘volunteers’ post on what appears to be an official page,” Johnson said in an email to Madison365. “I can’t image what anyone was thinking when they allowed this.”
“The status of the Sheriff’s page does need to be clarified,” Gifford wrote in an email. “Quite a few commenters made note of (that) concern about people using it during their official working hours.”
The page’s description also notes, “While this is an open forum, it’s also a family friendly one, so please keep your comments and wall posts clean…No graphic, obscene, explicit, or racial comments or submissions. Nor do we allow comments that are abusive, hateful, or intended to defame anyone or any organization.”