Commissioner says truck image meant as a joke
This past weekend, in the wake of protests around the country over police violence against African-Americans, Okanogan County Commissioner Jim DeTro re-posted an image of a bloodied and battered semi-truck on his personal Facebook page with the caption, “Just drove through Minneapolis. Didn’t see any protesters.”
Outrage over the post ignited a movement to remove DeTro from office.
Reactions to DeTro’s meme about the truck ricocheted through social media over the weekend, with hundreds of people lashing out at the commissioner in comments on his Facebook page and other online forums.
An online petition to remove DeTro from office had more than 6,100 signatures on Tuesday (June 2). One of the action groups organized at a Black Lives Matter rally in Winthrop on Sunday aims to recall DeTro. Two dozen county residents called into the county commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, denouncing DeTro’s actions and demanding his removal. More than 60 listened in.
Virtually every commenter demanded an apology and said that DeTro’s behavior, hateful and insulting comments, and glorification of violence show he is unfit to lead.
“Regardless of how you feel, you are a representative of the people in this county. These people need to feel safe and welcome to be here,” said one caller.
After the county commissioners went over their agenda on Monday morning (June 1), Commissioner Chris Branch broached the subject. “Are we going to have some sort of an ice-breaker for the subject on most people’s minds?” he said.
“I’ve always said, ‘I’m not a politician and I’m not politically correct,’” DeTro said. As a trucker for 46 years, DeTro said he often posts images of trucks and machinery and that it was clear the truck had gotten dented and bloodied from hitting a large animal like an elk or a cow. People who saw racism in the image were looking for something to attack, DeTro said.
It was a mistake not to add a comment to clarify that the image was a wisecrack, DeTro said. “For those of you that are ignorant and haters, it’s entirely possible for that guy to drive through Minneapolis on a truck route and not see a protester, because they’re not protesting or riding on truck routes,” he said.
“Everyone’s construed that to be racist. I don’t see how you get the ideology of racism out of that,” DeTro said. “That’s quite a reach, but the people that are on the left and are haters and hypocrites – they’re waiting for something to jump on.”
Meanwhile, “the left is silent” when someone threatens the president, DeTro said. “It’s just one big, huge hypocritical mess.”
County commissioners should set an example and avoid promoting divisiveness, Branch said. It’s important to show respect for elected offices, which were created by the Constitution, and for the officials who hold them, Branch said.
“Do you think I’m racist?” DeTro asked. “It’s hard to tell, Jim,” Branch said. DeTro replied that he had sponsored the one black member of the Okanogan Eagles.
Commissioner Andy Hover listened for about 15 minutes before speaking. The issue isn’t whether people are liberal or conservative, he said. “A guy was killed by a cop and shouldn’t have been. The guy should face murder charges,” Hover said, referring to the killing of a black man by a Minneapolis police officer that, along with many other instances of police brutality against people of color, has sparked demonstrations across the country.
As commissioners, they have to be very careful, Hover said. “We signed up for this job – nobody put us here,” he said. “The 42,000 people of Okanogan County pay our paychecks, whether they voted for us or not. We have to put our own views aside.”
“We took an oath to follow the Constitution. It’s hard – you have to go above and beyond, and represent everyone… and their interests,” Hover said. “We have to be cognizant of our actions and words.”
DeTro said he had no realization that his post “would be so inciteful,” but Branch warned that some people go to his Facebook page specifically to look for things like this.
During Tuesday’s public-comment session, members of the public said that, as a commissioner, DeTro should promote unity and respect for all his constituents. “We are not haters. We are community members who work on a daily basis to make this a better place,” one caller said.
Other callers pointed out that it’s not an issue of political correctness, but of basic human decency and politeness.
People who had listened to the commissioners’ discussion on Monday said they were dubious about DeTro’s claims of innocence about posting the truck meme.
Several said DeTro has shown a pattern of posting racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Muslim things on his Facebook page. Many said they’ve observed him over the years at public meetings and have been concerned by a pattern of verbal attacks and statements that appear to condone violence.
“As an elected leader, it’s DeTro’s responsibility to understand the meaning and context of his actions,” said another.
DeTro appeared to have removed the image from the page by Monday. Instead, there was a post that said, “I have been hacked. Please ignore what is coming out on my timeline.”
A trucker was arrested on Sunday after driving his truck onto a Minneapolis highway bridge where thousands of protesters had gathered. He came to a stop as protesters jumped out of the way.
Now in his third term as commissioner, DeTro has never shied away from controversial topics and hot-button issues. A few years ago, he rode an all-terrain vehicle into downtown Winthrop despite the town’s prohibition.
He regularly uses provocative language in commissioners’ meetings, referring to environmentalists as “green slime.” In discussions about the COVID-19 pandemic, he has repeatedly accused Gov. Jay Inslee of “acting like Nazi Germany” because of state restrictions on businesses.
DeTro told the other commissioners that he’d posted the image “as a trucker” and, while he’s used to being attacked for not being politically correct, he didn’t want to cause problems for the others.
They all enjoy the freedom of speech. But, as commissioners, they should be held to a higher bar, Hover said. “I make mistakes all the time. But, in our line of work, there’s a spotlight,” he said.
“It reflects on the whole board,” Branch said. “You’ve got to own it.”
The commissioners closed Tuesday’s public comment session to attend to other business on the agenda. Although public comment is typically just that – it doesn’t involve a dialogue with the commissioners – the commissioners didn’t say how or if they would follow up, despite demands from the public. The rest of their scheduled meeting (which was being held online via Zoom) was no longer accessible to the public, despite the requirements of the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.
A recording of the commissioners’ June 1 discussion is available on the Okanogan County Watch website at http://www.countywatch.org.