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Biting the Hand That Needs

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That's because neither Witschen nor any other white manager was looking in the right place, Lamar says. Whites didn't think race played a part in the killings. Blacks did.

"No one wanted to address what could have been the real cause of that tragedy," says City Commissioner Carlton Moore. "If an individual has not lived it, if an individual has not felt it, they cannot understand it."

Even more important to Lamar, at the time, was to be at least involved with the recovery process.

"In my opinion, for the city not to have the city's [affirmative action specialist] involved in all phases of analysis and remedy of this tragedy will prove to be a mistake when the final chapter is recorded and read," she wrote in an e-mail to Panoch in early March 1996. "I am trying not to let that happen."

Though she wasn't invited to her bosses' meetings, Lamar nevertheless talked to dozens of black employees at funerals and memorials for days after the shootings, and most admitted to understanding how McCree could have done what he did. "The black men felt anger and fear, because they had traveled down that same road and weren't sure how far they were from McCree," Lamar says. "Maybe McCree went fifteen steps, and these men went twelve, thirteen, fourteen. They didn't know where that point was for them, and that scared them.

"The city did something worse than not dealing with it," Lamar says. "They used their lack of dealing with it to state that it was a nonissue. I think the same powder keg is building just like it did before."

Eventually Lamar's managers responded to her pleas. In an e-mail sent to Panoch, Larkin wrote that he would "prefer that Deborah spend her time on the specific assignments she has already been given." Two days later she was reprimanded for missing deadlines on four projects. Three of the deadlines had passed while she was out sick. The fourth was actually a government contracting expo she'd missed seven months earlier. On March 31, 1996, Lamar was suspended for four days with pay.

"When my questions and advice challenges the status quo... I was to be silenced by personal discipline as a distraction, and set up for future termination," she alleges in a written appeal of her suspension. "Missing manning a booth at an expo seven months ago is insufficient grounds for a manager career to be put on the line or for any formal discipline."

During her suspension Lamar decided it was time to submit a detailed affirmative action report, no matter what the consequences. She submitted the 61-page draft to department heads on July 10, 1996, five months after the shootings and several months past deadline. On July 26, Larkin asked her to resign, saying that if she didn't he would recommend she be fired, Lamar claims. He cited incompetence and missed deadlines as the primary reasons.

Lamar refused to resign, and a week later she was given notice of eleven charges against her, including more missed deadlines, violations of e-mail and computer policies, and spending $600 on outside printing to get her affirmative action report prepared.

Larkin suspended Lamar without pay for twenty days and recommended to Hanbury that she be fired. As she served her suspension, other charges trickled in, including using the city's computers to conduct personal business on city time and exceeding the budget of a summer youth program she oversaw by about $4500. Lamar claims that these are false charges, because in each case she was doing her job and had the approval of her superiors. Despite her claims, she was fired.

Incredibly, Lamar wants her job back. She says as much in the federal lawsuit filed in August, charging that the city, Hanbury, Witschen, Larkin, and Panoch discriminated against her as a black manager and punished her for trying to make public the city's discriminatory employment practices.

"Do I really want to go back into that snake pit?" she asks today. "I really think I could do a lot of good in a short period of time. It won't be comfortable, but the struggle is not about being comfortable. It's about having equality."

What Lamar, a single mother of two, doesn't have these days is a full-time job. Aside from a few consulting jobs, she's been unemployed since she was fired. She claims she's been passed over because her personnel file in Fort Lauderdale does not include her written defenses. Her family has already been evicted from one apartment, and she periodically has to decide which utility to have shut off when money runs out at the end of the month. She drew her last unemployment check in April.

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Lucy Chabot

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