c) Allegation of performance of a
Hayward also alleged that someone performed a skit with a watermelon that purportedly demonstrated the birth of a race.
Before the Redneck of the Year skits were to begin in 1992, Rightmyer got on stage and urged contestants to be creative instead of gross. He specifically told the crowd that racist skits and the use of the term "nigger" were not welcome. [ / Numerous witnesses confirmed that on more than one occasion Rightmyer gave such speeches before the skits but were unable to specify in which years. Rightmyer recalled that he did so in this particular year because he remembered being so angry at this skit occurring just minutes after he gave such a speech. Other witnesses' recollections regarding Rightmyer's reaction to the skit are consistent with Rightmyer's testimony. ] The contestants were told they would be pulled off the stage if they engaged in such behavior.
Rightmyer and others told us that moments later a Fort Lauderdale officer held a watermelon and told a story about how it fell off the back of a watermelon truck. [ / Hayward mistakenly claimed in his October OIG interview that this skit was performed in 1991. ] He struck the watermelon with a baton until it broke open, pulled out a small doll he had painted black, and described it as being a "seed." He then struck the doll as well, saying one has to kill the seed when it is young.
The officer responsible for the skit claimed that the doll represented Rodney King and the skit was a spoof on the Rodney King case. He claimed that when he pulled the doll out he kept saying, "not guilty, not guilty." The officer also claimed that initially he did not believe the skit to be racist but he conceded that others may see it otherwise. Several other officers from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department also claimed that the skit was a spoof on Rodney King.
Rightmyer claimed he immediately raced forward, grabbed the microphone from the officer, and castigated him for his performance. He chose, however, not to discipline the officer in any manner, saying that the officer had never given him any trouble before and so believed it was a momentary lapse of judgment.
(ii) OIG findings
Although the officer who performed this skit claimed it was a parody on the Rodney King case, this claim is not credible. First, Rightmyer, who would have a motive to downplay any racist interpretation of a skit, contended it had nothing to do with Rodney King but rather saw it as a blatantly racist performance. One of his sons agreed with this interpretation of the skit. Second, on its face, pulling a black doll out of a watermelon would not appear to have any relation to Rodney King. This interpretation is implausible.
Unfortunately, once again, while verbally admonishing the performer, Rightmyer failed to send a clear message that such conduct entailed consequences. This failure is particularly significant because this same officer has been identified as being present at, if not fully participating in, the racially charged confrontation with Jack Scott in 1995. Furthermore, one of his fellow officers was the primary instigator of that significant incident in 1995. While we repeatedly conclude, based on substantial evidence, that Rightmyer acted to condemn racist conduct as soon as it came to his attention, we cannot help but believe that his failure to take more drastic action, such as ejecting those who engaged in such behavior, created an atmosphere in which others did not fear to engage in equally reprehensible behavior.