Earlier this week, Specialist Adam Jarrell filed a racial discrimination complaint against the New Mexico Army National Guard. Specialist Jarrell’s story is more than a little scary and disturbing. The 23-year-old served the National Guard since 2006. He was recently deployed to Afghanistan, where he was the only African-American among 216 soldiers in his unit.
According to a Reuters news report: “The alleged harassment began after Jarrell reported the physical abuse of two subordinate soldiers by an officer in Afghanistan in 2009… after that, Jarrell said he was subjected to increasing torment, including threats of physical violence and racial slurs. The abuse culminated in a noose hanging outside his barracks door.”
When Jarrell reported what had been happening to his commanding officers, “they ignored the issue and wrote him up for jumping the chain of command, even though harassment claims were not subject to those rules.” A spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico summarized the blunt argument: “No one should suffer the kind of racial hatred Specialist Jarrell experienced, least of all someone who is on the frontlines of battle.”
Although the modern American military is a far more integrated and tolerant institution than the military of a generation or two ago, Jarrell’s complaints suggest that problems like sexual harassment, racial discrimination, retaliation, and general mistreatment have not been excised entirely from the military system.
There are various ways to contextualize Jarrell’s story. One can make this argument: hey, we’re making progress. Sure, we have a long way to go, but we are heading in the right direction, in terms of stamping out bad behavior, harassment, discrimination, etc.
On the other hand, another argument may be equally viable: Intolerance, fear, and hatred can never be excised entirely from an institution like the military – or indeed, any institution, corporation, or social structure. These problems — and the targets of abuse — can only shift form. Whereas in past generations, racial discrimination and harassment against African-American was culturally normal, today it’s not. But our prejudices did not go away. They only shifted towards other groups, such as homosexuals and Arabs.
Both camps make interesting and compelling arguments. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that we have made at least some progress; but how much more progress can we hope to make, and what will our final “success” ultimately look like?
Speculation aside, many people who have personally experienced sexual harassment, racial discrimination, wage and hour violations at work, and other kinds of employer mistreatment need urgent help to understand their rights and responsibilities. The law firm of Joseph & Kirschenbaum can give you immediate, free assistance. Connect this reputable firm now at www.jhllp.com or (212) 688-5640.