Commentary: Charlottesville in Ulster County

This message appeared on a billboard on Route 9W in the Town of Esopus last week. (photo by Dan Barton)

As we reflect on the recent events in Charlottesville, we need search no further than our own backyard to find signs of the same, ugly white supremacy. It seems that Ulster County Sheriff Van Blarcum rules over a fiefdom systematically skewed against those whose skin is not white.

We recently met with three Ulster County law enforcement agents who have filed a federal anti-discrimination suit against two of their superior officers and Sheriff Van Blarcum. Their accusations are, to say the least, troubling. As the case advances through the courts, we believe it is important to bring the substance of it to broad public attention.


The aggrieved officers have all demonstrated their skills and competence; all have long histories of good service. Yet these officers have seemingly been passed over repeatedly for job promotions. The officers contend that the sheriff and his officers routinely award the better jobs to their white junior colleagues, heirs apparent to the Old White Boys Club that, in their experience, is the operational model within the sheriff’s department.

The complaint documents numerous incidents that clearly support and give compelling credence to their accusations of a culture of systemic racism and explicit white bias. Hopefully, the justice that has eluded these loyal public servants within the sheriff’s domain will be delivered through the federal judiciary.

But there’s more. The culture of the county’s division of law enforcement seems to be wracked by systemic corruption, where white officers are immune to reprimand, even when they commit egregious offences. There appears to be a pattern of intervention in which even major offenses are covered up or minimized; disciplinary action, if any, is token; actual felons are returned to police duty and even promoted.

In one incident, an off-duty Ulster County officer threw a glass at a woman in a bar room altercation, causing a laceration to the victim’s face that required multiple stitches. Objectively this constitutes criminal assault. While the officer was arrested on felony assault charges, his offense was pleaded down to a misdemeanor. The officer was not demoted, received no more than a slap on the wrist, and when VanBlarcum became sheriff he promoted the officer to the rank of sergeant.

Sheriff Van Blarcum has been quite vocal about the necessity to strictly adhere to the law when it comes to civil infractions by our undocumented neighbors. But he does no more than pay lip service to the law when his white officers are involved.

For the sake of public safety, as well as justice within the department, it would seem that the creation of an external Internal Affairs Bureau is both necessary and long overdue. In light of the revelations that have surfaced in the anti-discrimination lawsuit, the people have cause for concern. It seems clear that Ulster County law enforcement is not equipped to police itself. Only an independent body can ensure that both the requirements of justice and the need for public safety are served.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna, Ph.D.,
Holy Cross/Santa Cruz Episcopal Church

The Rev. Jim Childs,
Pointe of Praise Church

The Rev. G. Modele Clarke,
New Progressive Baptist Church