By Pat Priest
Sometimes a bullied student is the one asked to apologize when they finally assert themselves. This pretty much describes the case with District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez, who serves both Athens-Clarke and Oconee Counties, who has been vilified endlessly right from the start. After a frightening incident in Oconee County at the Democrats' Christmas party, where someone at the restaurant knocked down one of the Democrats, she wrote what could be characterized as a despairing email about the simmering hatred directed toward her by some in the county. Many of those same people called for her to apologize, and headlines splashed the news when she did.
She had said she’s "the most hated woman in Oconee County.” That’s partly true because her work is characterized as beyond the pale, and Representatives Gaines and Wiedower have tried to pull Oconee out of her district as if her policies threaten the/ir social order. What is she trying to do that’s so dangerous? Rectify a system of justice in some cases tipped to favor those in power. Because people of color and low-income residents have sometimes been treated differently and more harshly by police and the courts, she’s working to vigorously address those injustices. And she’s working to devise programs that address addiction and mental illness as she deals with the huge backlogged number of cases she inherited. She has to work in an environment of harsh blowback when she tries to make changes to address problems with the status quo. She plaintively had said that she feared white supremacists in the county but did not characterize the whole county that way, though her opponents rushed to claim that. The press plays a role in vilifying her, too, depicting her comments as “scathing” or (here at Classic City News) “insensitive.” The county’s home paper, the Oconee Enterprise, described her email as "ripping Oconee” or “wrong to demonize Oconee.” The Enterprise is routinely, harshly critical and sometimes just plain wrong; for example, the paper claimed her office does not prosecute shoplifters. (She does.) Many portrayals about her apology also characterize her email as a response only to that incident of violence against a Democrat, and oh, boy, do her detractors love the fact that the man who assaulted the Democrat wasn’t even from Oconee! But she was calling out the dangerous derision in Oconee that never lets up, never seeks any kind of spirit of joint problem-solving based on facts while recognizing our common humanity. There is never, ever any effort to understand why changes are long overdue. Much of the ugly vitriol toward Democrats in Oconee is hidden from a wider public in private facebook sites. Many leaders in the community know about these hidden-in-the-shadows, clannish groups that make her life more fearful (and worry my mother, I might add) but do nothing to ask them to ratchet down their rhetoric. So hopefully the D.A. Gonzalez’s letter of apology will be followed by an apology from the bullies themselves, those who denigrate others in the harshest terms simply for working to even up the scales of justice, a cherished ideal in America. It’s their turn. Please broker those apologies.