CHARDON, Ohio – In this national moment of awakening about police violence against Black citizens, some public officials just can’t seem to land with both feet on the right side of history.
Among them is Geauga County Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri, who during a June 16 meeting of commissioners said that vandalizing a war monument should be a “shootable offense,” and since then, has managed to make an already ugly situation worse for himself by blaming the media for quoting him.
Spidalieri, a former police officer who owns a gun shop, added that Geauga County should have zero tolerance for demonstrators who become violent or commit vandalism, such as the destruction of war monuments. In recent weeks, throughout the United States but mainly in the South, protesters have toppled dozens of statues depicting leaders of the Confederacy and scrawled graffiti on other monuments.
The comment elicited a sickening round of laughter from others in the room.
In the week since his comments were published in the Chagrin Valley Times and the Geauga Maple Leaf, Spidalieri received some public backlash on social media – and a disturbing amount of praise. So instead of recanting his boneheaded statement, Spidalieri blamed reporters for daring to quote him.
During this week’s commissioners’ meeting, Spidalieri said he was “pretty disgusted” with reporters who covered the June 16 meeting. He said they irresponsibly failed to follow up with him to learn what he really meant by “shootable offense.”
In an interview Wednesday, Spidalieri told me that before the June 16 meeting began, he was talking with a group of community members in the meeting room about the use of less-lethal force. So naturally, when he said during the meeting that vandals of war monuments should be shot on sight, it was an extension of that earlier conversation, he told me.
“Especially as volatile as times are right now … I call it very, very irresponsible reporting,” he said of the news stories that quoted him. “Because what I said — if [the reporter] would have been involved in understanding how that statement was stated — she would not have put that out there the way that she did.”
To be clear, Spidalieri, himself, put that “out there.” If the inciting comment required more context, he certainly didn’t provide it during the public meeting where he spoke the words. I asked the commissioner if he believes he should at least take responsibility for that much.
“I cannot watchdog incompetent reporting,” he told me.
It bears mentioning here that when Spidalieri spoke of defaced veterans’ monuments, he was referring generally to soldiers’ graves in Virginia and a Vietnam War monument that, he says, was covered with graffiti. He would not say whether he believes monuments to the Confederacy should be protected from vandalism by the same police use of force. He did, however, repeat an obnoxious Republican talking point that dismantling Confederate monuments is somehow akin to erasing history. Never mind that the statues were erected less to teach us a history lesson than to commemorate mutiny against the United States and honor the unrepentant white supremacy of the slave-owning South.
Certainly, I would never say that irresponsible conduct like that should be a “shootable offense” when what I really mean is that Spidalieri is undeserving of his bully pulpit.