CONYERS — Community activist Josie Dean is questioning why statements she made during a Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday have been edited from videotape of the meeting.
The editing also raises issues of how accurately the videotapes portray the meetings and when editing the tapes is appropriate.
During public comment time at the close of the BOC meeting Tuesday, Dean weighed in on the number of people who are in jail for marijuana offenses when jail space could be needed for more serious offenders. Dean, who is black, also said that black people tolerate marijuana usage better than alcohol. Drinking alcohol, she said, leads to more negative behaviors among blacks.
“Black people’s brains have to smoke,” Dean said. “We can’t drink, we can’t do all that chemical stuff. When you give black people chemical stuff, that’s why they go crazy … but when you give black people marijuana all they do is laugh, sit down and eat.”
Dean explained Wednesday that she was referencing an announcement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that federal prosecutors would no longer seek mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who were not linked to gangs or drug trafficking groups. She also said she believes a disproportionate number of black people wind up in jail on marijuana charges. Dean is founder of the non-partisan Rockdale County Think Tank.
Dean’s comments were edited from the videotape that is available on the county’s website and on government access Channel 23. In place of her comments is the statement,”This public comment has been removed due to inappropriate content.”
Dean, who typically gives a rambling three-minute speech at the end of every BOC meeting, said she didn’t think her comments were out of line and noted that she was not ruled out of order by Commission Chairman Richard Oden. Dean said she has never been censored before. “This is the first time they’ve ever done that,” said Dean.
Tonya Parker, the county’s director of Community Affairs and Innovative Programs, said the decision to edit Dean’s comments was based on her apparent support of marijuana usage.
“Her comment was mainly deemed inappropriate because at one point during the three minutes she advocated the use of a federal and state prohibitive substance, so I didn’t want to step into any detrimental territory by airing this on our government access channel,” Parker said in an email response to questions about the editing.
Dean said Wednesday she wasn’t advocating marijuana usage, just giving her opinion about the drug’s different effects on blacks as opposed to others. She said she had not been able to talk with anyone at the county who could explain why her comments were censored.
Parker also said she is responsible for determining what is appropriate to air on government access Channel 23 “and how it stays in line with my department (standard operating procedure.)”
The SOP for Parker’s department states, in part, “All official government meetings are aired in their entirety ‘gavel to gavel,’ meaning uninterrupted or edited, except for closed meetings under the Georgia Open Meetings Act. If there are technical issues with the audio or video of a meeting where an aspect of the meeting is not shown or audible, that will be noted on the screen, but not edited out. FCC regulations may require some editing to stay in compliance with applicable federal and/or state regulations.”
When asked by email Thursday, Parker did not specify which federal or state regulation was violated by Dean’s comments. Instead, she said, the decision to edit fell under the department's guidelines for programming.
Parker did say that the meeting tapes are rarely edited “except when due to technical difficulties, such as with sound involving a microphone during the course of a meeting, or in a circumstance such as this. Then, much like this situation, we simply put some type of notation on the video. In prior administrations, as you know, this department has recommended that inappropriate comments spoken in a public meeting be removed.”
Parker also said the decision to edit Tuesday’s videotape originated with her. She added that she typically makes any editing decisions.
“In the year and a half that I’ve been with the county in this role, this is the first time I’ve had video edited due to these circumstances,” she said. “Of course, when situations like this come up I’m one who likes to ensure the issue continues to be examined for any future lessons learned and ways to best work with our citizens.”
Dean said that BOC Chairman Oden had called and asked her to come to his office to discuss the removal of her comments; she said she had declined.