Dec. 22 2014 04:18 PM

Visions of gun violence danced in her head


San Diego City Councilmember Lorie Zapf has a problem called “Shirley Owen,” which means—paging San Diego—we have a problem called “Lorie Zapf.”

After a group of SDSU students and activists quietly protested ongoing police killings of unarmed black men during the City Council inauguration two weeks ago, a low-level Zapf staffer named Shirley Owen decided to let it all hang out. In an offhand comment heard by KPBS reporter Tarryn Mento, Owen referred to the citizens at this event—who were peacefully exercising their First Amendment right—as “fucking idiots with their hands up.” 

Owen is obviously an asshole, and it’s not extraordinary that an asshole would say an asshole thing. What is extraordinary, though, is what she said next and the fact that she still has a job.

The headline KPBS chose for this story was, “City Council Staffer Calls Inauguration Protestors ‘Idiots.’” But this was pussyfooted abdication (I love you, KPBS, but you need some help keepin’ it real). The correct headline would have alerted readers to Owen’s detour deep into Cliven Bundy territory as she bared her withering soul to us all. 

“I wanted to shoot them,” she said of the fucking-idiot protestors. 

It would be fun to chalk this up to said asshole being a Republican. But if the events of Ferguson (and more) have shown us anything, it’s that narrow, ignorant and bigoted views know no partisan boundaries

In the bright daylight of recent social injustice, I’ve witnessed die-hard progressives outing themselves for the bigots they are. And I have to admit: Progressives are the worst: They’re the tiresome yeah-but folks; the devil’s-advocaters who think there’s always another side; the craft-beer-making, kale-eating pontificators who are great with theory but abysmal with practice. Conservatives, on the other hand, know who they are, and they straight-up own that shit: Are we dickwads? Yes! Do we think black people are thugs who deserve to die? Well, not the ones who are polite and walk slowly—but not too slowly—and who show proper respect and don’t talk back and keep their hands where we can see ’em! 

To be fair to Owen, she is far from alone in her repugnancy. Donald Walsh, a school psychologist in the Harlem Consolidated School District of Illinois called protestors “dumbasses” on his Facebook page, saying they “should be sent back to Africa.” And according to the San Jose Mercury News, 20-year police veteran Phil White—who taught in a gang-prevention program—tweeted his disregard for citizens whom he is, by definition, paid to protect. 

“Threaten me or my family and I will use my God given and law appointed right and duty to kill you. #CopsLivesMatter,” he wrote. He wasn’t quite done, though. “By the way,” he continued, “if anyone feels they can’t breathe or their lives matter I’ll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun.”

White’s since been suspended and lost a coaching position at Menlo College. Whether he’ll lose his job remains to be seen. Walsh was discovered by activists on Twitter who effectively doxed him, and he’s since put his media presence on lockdown. According to the damning and awesome website Racists Getting Fired, Donald Walsh was fired from his position at the Harlem School Districtthanks to people agitating for justice.

Which is what I’m doing right now with regard to Owen, who needs to be fired as Zapf’s community-relations representative. With what was likely a hyperbolic desire to gun down the very citizens she is paid to represent, she has no damned business being all up in the public business. 

Protest organizer and veteran Mark Jones gave a list of requests to several council members. “Just imagine,” he said to Mento of KPBS, “what if I couldn’t get to the council member and I got to [Owen] instead, and it was her job to relay this to the council.”

Indeed. The woman has lost credibility and cannot be trusted to serve the public honestly. 

Not only did Owen reveal the malignancy in her mouse brain with her remark; she also chose the same method of violence that the protestors were (are) struggling against. Furthermore, she made this comment within arm’s reach of the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, at a time in our history when gun violence is regularly featured above the fold. “Insensitive” doesn’t begin to describe this—to use her words—fucking idiot. 

 “Flippant” doesn’t, either, which is how Zapf referred to Owen’s remarks when she cold-fished her way through a this-doesn’t-represent-my-views statement. But we could all beg to differ. Zapf has a history of hiring staffers with questionable judgment. In 2011, CityBeat’s Dave Maass reported on another Zapf staffer (say that 10 times as fast as you can), Matt Donellan, who organized a protest to mock Occupy San Diego for use in a fundraising video for the conservative Lincoln Club. 

As poignantly stated in a comment left on the CityBeat piece, this “[s]hows a pattern of disrespect for civic engagement by Zapf staff members. If this is who Zapf surrounds herself with, what does she actually think of the people who elected her?” This is a legitimate question.

It’s pretty tough to take Owen’s contempt as some sort of outlier. She’s an extension of Zapf, and Zapf is complicit by not demanding Owen’s resignation. So, too, are the rest of the City Council members who sit quietly by and do nothing. Where are their voices to denounce Owen’s remarks? To urge their colleague to clean house? Are they more concerned with protecting their own than they are San Diegans? 

If so, we have a bigger problem than Zapf and the scoundrels she employs. 

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.