The most important thing to know about Mecklenburg Sheriff Garry McFadden is that his favorite word is “my.”
The jail is “my building,” he explained this week, and its lobby is “my lobby.”
Female inmates at the jail are, to use McFadden’s creepy, sexist moniker, “my queens.”
Fatalities in the jail are “my deaths,” according to the sheriff.
He is Mecklenburg County’s answer to Donald Trump, a narcissist inclined to see himself as the primary player in any given situation.
The second most important thing to know about McFadden is that he’s a cop, which means he views the people not as free, autonomous beings and the ultimate source of the government’s legitimacy, but as rabble in need of being controlled, constrained, and contained.
The sheriff showcased his character this week during a presentation to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners demonizing Jail Support, the citizens who have worked around the clock in recent months to help former inmates.
The work of the group, which is a loose collection of volunteers who rely on their own resources and those of donors, has been, as its name suggests, to provide food, water, clothing, transportation, and other assistance to those released from the jail.
Jail Support originally set up shop on the jail’s uptown property. McFadden allowed them to stay there for awhile before violently evicting them, arresting more than forty people in the process. So Jail Support moved across the street to other county-owned property. There on 4th Street it remains, a couple of tents manned twenty-four hours a day ready to help those who need its assistance — without McFadden’s involvement and outside his control.
That, the sheriff made clear this week, is the problem.
“I’m here to inform you fully the extent of what we’re dealing with each and every day,” McFadden promised to commissioners as part of a presentation that kicked off with a needless portrait of the image-conscious sheriff in his dress uniform. The goal of the presentation was to convince commissioners that Jail Support, once and for all, needs to go.
McFadden outlined a few minor legal infractions, including vandalism and public urination, allegedly committed by people associated with Jail Support. Trash sometimes gathers on the sidewalk. Cars sometimes stop along the curb to drop off supplies. The sheriff also asserted that a “sex act” had been performed at Jail Support just minutes before his presentation began.
These details were intended to give the impression of general lawlessness, the hook McFadden will surely use to justify his inevitable, violent clearing out of Jail Support, something he obviously and desperately craves.
These alleged petty offenses, which are not all that different from the sorts of things you see uptown during, say, a Panthers game, are mere rationalizations for the sheriff’s impending brutality. The real reason he hopes to destroy Jail Support is that Jail Support has dared to reject McFadden as a partner in its work, and no narcissist can tolerate rejection.
No one outside my jail, McFadden thinks, can properly offer support without my involvement and my supervision.
This theme dominated McFadden’s remarks to commissioners.
“[Jail Support] will get what they need if they ask me and allow me to provide it for them,” he explained. Translation: Work with me or face ruin.
The sheriff noted that Jail Support doesn’t seek “resolution” — by which he meant that it won’t agree to partner with him so he can co-opt the group’s work to further his own public relations efforts — but “conflict” and “disruption.” That is, conflict with him as an agent of a corrupt system of law enforcement and disruption of that system, expressions by Jail Support that necessarily constitute criticism of McFadden.
The sheriff also expressed irritation that Jail Support is not operated as the sort of authoritarian hierarchy in which he is comfortable. “There is no true leader” of Jail Support, he complained, and Jail Support is “something that’s not controlled, not supervised.” McFadden assigned nefarious motives for these organizational choices, saying, “There is no true leader to [Jail Support]. … And that may be by design.” (It surely is, but not for the reasons McFadden insinuated.)
In short, Jail Support’s very existence is an affront to Garry McFadden, who believes everything and everyone ought to be controlled, preferably by him. That’s the real reason he finds Jail Support intolerable. This isn’t a story of public safety, but psychodrama.
Understanding this helps make sense of McFadden’s explanation that while he supports “the concept of Jail Support,” he believes Jail Support as it actually exists has been “hijacked” by unidentified, malignant forces and that we who support Jail Support have been “bamboozled.” Again and again he alleged this hijacking — without ever naming or presenting a single person associated with Jail Support who believes it has been hijacked.
He feels no need to produce such evidence, for in McFadden’s mind, no other explanation could possibly account for Jail Support’s rejection of his overtures. To a narcissist, being rebuffed must be the work of scheming malefactors. The rejection itself is the proof of malice.
The sheriff, of course, is just one man, and the nine-member county commission, which oversees the government that owns the property from which Jail Support operates, could certainly choose to defend the group and its work.
Without any dissent, though, commissioners lined up behind McFadden at this week’s meeting.
Commissioner Pat Cotham mourned that “this has been painful” for McFadden and asserted that Jail Support “has not been helpful.” She expressed a desire for Jail Support to focus on helping individuals, an implicit denunciation of Jail Support’s political critiques of McFadden in particular and policing in general. (The group has, among other things, raised a banner proclaiming, “Fire Sheriff McFadden” and distributed leaflets reading, “This jail kills.”)
Commissioner Trevor Fuller echoed the sheriff’s desire to assert control and to dominate the people: “I’m finding it hard to imagine reasons why we should allow this situation to continue.” He then argued that wiping out Jail Support would somehow be doing God’s work.
Fuller also said he “would love to be able to talk to somebody” with Jail Support. He could, of course, by simply going to Jail Support. (If my experience is any indication, if it’s a hot day and he brings his dog, they’ll make sure he and the dog get some water.)
Like McFadden, Fuller also objected that Jail Support has organized itself loosely and non-hierarchically: “Who can speak for the group? Who’s in charge? What is the group? Is it an organized group?” Heard here is a public official’s fear of the people whenever they are either unsupervised or without municipal or corporate sponsorship.
Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell lamented the anti-policing “talking points” propagated by Jail Support.
Commissioner Elaine Powell described Jail Support as “hateful,” while Commissioner Vilma Leake said she was “appalled” at Jail Support.
The only commissioner to display any skepticism of McFadden’s pitch — and, to be sure, it was minimal — was Susan Harden, who asked some important questions: What would removal of Jail Support look like? Who would do it? And wouldn’t Jail Support just set up elsewhere if removed?
McFadden provided no answers to these questions, explaining he wouldn’t tell the commission what an enforcement action against Jail Support would look like. “We’re not saying what we’re gonna do,” he said.
Whatever violence McFadden intends to unleash, Chairman George Dunlap made it clear that this week’s presentation was meant to give commissioners an opportunity to register their consent, even if only informally and without any vote, to whatever plan McFadden has to to dismantle Jail Support in the coming days.
Dunlap explained, “The county commission will not be deciding for the sheriff what, if any, action he takes.” In other words, McFadden can make the call. But, Dunlap also said, “[The sheriff] is empowered to enforce the law, and I hope that is what he will do.” He added that the commission would support “whatever action you deem appropriate.”
The message from commissioners to the sheriff was clear: Brutalize our constituents and hide behind the mantra of law and order. We’ll be OK with it.
McFadden, a scorned narcissist driven by his desire to exercise dominion over others, will no doubt accept the invitation, and soon.