Nazi salute fiasco an embarrassment to W.Va.
What is most upsetting about the Nazi salute fiasco that drew unflattering international attention to West Virginia is not that more than 30 young Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation trainees posed for the outrageous photograph. It is that one of their instructors — who taught a cultural diversity class — encouraged them to do so.
Yes, cultural diversity.
Late last year, a photo showing members of the trainees’ class with their arms outstretched, mimicking a salute used in Nazi Germany, surfaced. It was captioned, “Hail Byrd,” in reference to instructor Karrie Byrd. Many of the trainees’ upraised palms were facing outward, just like the “Heil Hitler” salute. Some, who reportedly had concerns about that, displayed clenched fists, instead.
Just before Christmas, it was revealed that all of the more than 30 trainees had been fired, along with three state DCR staff members. Though the announcement did not identify those whose employment had been terminated, we presume Byrd was among them.
An investigation disclosed she actually encouraged the trainees to pose for the picture, as a “sign of respect” for her.
Our report on the firings noted that Byrd told investigators she was not aware of the historical and racial connotations of the salute. “The investigation disclosed that she encouraged it, reveled in it, and at times reciprocated the gesture,” a state report noted.
How could someone tasked with teaching DCR trainees about cultural diversity be so crass?
How many former trainees, now serving as jail and prison guards, were infected by Byrd’s inexcusable insensitivity?
How many DCR inmates now think displays of some types of bigotry — perhaps with some level of violence — are acceptable?
State officials need to answer all those questions — and engage in some serious rehabilitation.