At the suggestion of my friends Matt Bailey and State Representative Chris Roy, Jr., I watched the documentary film Hot Coffee, which explores the issue of “tort reform” in America.
It should be required viewing:
I was particularly moved by the story of Colin Gourley. Honestly, it broke my heart, so fair warning to my mother, my family, and to the amazing people who helped me, when I was a kid.
To the Gourley family, I commend you for your courage and tenacity. To Colin’s twin brother, Connor, your brother may not be able to fully express it, but I can promise you, without any doubt, you are his hero.
When my mother was in labor with me, I was a breech baby, with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. As I understand it, immediately prior to my birth, the umbilical cord basically strangled me for about sixty seconds; I lost oxygen at a critical time, just like Colin. And just like Colin, as a result, I’ve been living with cerebral palsy for my entire life.
I’ve been incredibly lucky, though, and it’s pure luck: Seconds of time that ensured I would not be severely impaired, that somehow also ensured my cognitive skills weren’t affected and my motor skills were clumsy but easily improvable. Colin and I have likely had many of the same exact surgeries. Like Colin, there are pictures of me as a young kid, straddling a walker, as I strained to stride across a gait laboratory, and I’d bet we also shared some of the same doctors. (It’s a small world, after all).
Two days ago, Rapides Parish Police Juror Steve Coco said in a sworn deposition, “I think anything Lamar White writes on his blog or anything he writes anywhere is poppycock. He’s not a professional journalist. He’s physically challenged, a poor little rich boy. He’s never had a real job in his life. I feel sorry for him.”
He later said that it’s “obvious” that I am physically challenged and then reiterated his sympathy.
Forgive my slight digression, but I want to make it clear: Steve Coco, I don’t need, deserve, or want your sympathy. I live independently. I walk on my own, unassisted. I drive my own car. I bought my own house, with my own money. I snow ski, and I’ve dived in caves in Fiji and the Galapagos. I’ve traveled all over the world, sometimes by myself. Unlike you, I earned a college degree, a degree, by the way, from one of the top twenty colleges in the United States. Despite what you may believe, I’ve held a steady job for the last six years, almost immediately after I graduated, and within the next month, I will be a student at a top-tier law school.
You can call me a “poor little rich boy” until you turn blue in the face; I don’t care. I understand I’ve been privileged in many ways, but it’s mainly because of my father, who died, tragically, when I was eighteen. And not to go all Good Will Hunting on everyone, but it’s true: I would trade every single privilege I’ve had during the last ten years for just one more day with my father.
Juror Coco, your dismissive statements about me as a “physically challenged” person that you “feel sorry for” demonstrate your ignorance and your complete insensitivity toward the disabled.
They are particularly disgraceful, considering you are an elected official. You don’t have to apologize to me personally, but I hope you will consider apologizing for being insensitive toward the disabled. Or you should just resign.
Back to Colin Gourley and his twin brother Connor: Connor, you know why I’m confident that your Colin’s hero? Because I have a brother just like you, and he’s helped me more than any doctor or physical therapist ever has.
I love you, Lamar! I am so proud of you, and you have always inspired me. You were the smartest guy I knew 10 years ago, and you’re the smartest guy I know now.
Too kind, Casey, too kind.
I hope to see much more of you, Dustin, and your beautiful new nephew Emerson once I move to the Big D.
Or I’m going to have to fly to Portland, because it’s been too long.
Juror Coco said a few other things about my legitimacy and credibility as a writer and a “journalist.” So forgive me for bragging on you, but it’s worth pointing out that you are an amazing, accomplished journalist who has worked alongside Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times and who currently works at The Oregonian. Your words mean a lot to me.
All of my love,
As an update and postscript: I realize that, for some, particularly those who don’t know me, it may seem as if I am being defiantly self-aggrandizing, maybe even a little braggadocios and arrogant. Who cares where I went to college, and what does it matter that I have traveled around the world or that I’ve held down a job for the last six years? What gives me the right to ask for an apology or a resignation letter from an elected official?
When I learned about the Gourley family and what they’ve had to endure throughout the past seventeen years, it deeply resonated with me, and it reminded me of how incredibly fortunate and lucky I’ve been.
Very soon, I’ll be entering a new chapter in my life, but before I leave the Gret Stet of Louisiana- the one place in the world that will always own my heart, I think it’s important that I share a few things. Maybe it will help those of you who don’t know me understand exactly why I may appear to be somewhat defiant and upset.
During the last five or so years, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about Louisiana, my hometown of Alexandria, and what passes for political discourse here. I’ve dispensed my fair share of criticism at others. I’ve never been afraid to publicly call someone out for lying whenever they’re publicly lying, and maybe, for some, that makes me controversial. Maybe I sometimes appear to be purposely confrontational and provocative. It’s a risk I’ve been willing to take, and on more than one occasion, I’ve had to apologize and eat my own words. I’ve always believed that fearlessness and humility are important virtues, but they’re not always easy to balance.
If you want to understand why I may seem strident or even defiant, then you need to know this: Throughout the last three years, I have been repeatedly, maliciously, and publicly attacked by another local blogger. In response to this post, for example, he suggested that “many” believed my disability was caused by my late father. My father struggled with his own problems, to be sure, but even at the risk of exposing my own vulnerabilities on the subject, I have to admit frankly and to all of you: The way my family and I have been treated by this blogger and by others like him has been profoundly painful and devastating for me. To me, it is almost unfathomable that this blogger is allowed to carry a law license in Louisiana.
I know I can be provocative. I know I have never shied away from controversy.
To Juror Coco, I know I’ve satirized you. I know I’ve called you out on a few things, and I recognize that you’re probably not a fan of my work online. I know I’ve been critical of you, and my criticism has been front and center. When you claimed that the National Association of Counties (NACO) published an obviously doctored photograph of President Obama, I contacted them, and they went on record denying your allegations. When you challenged me to produce evidence that you had been paid as a radio personality, all I had to do was look up your financial disclosure forms, which are public record. I’m sure I haven’t endeared myself toward you, but — and I mean this earnestly– despite our differences, I know that there is absolutely no way I would ever be capable of personally insulting you like you did to me. And you know, I guess that’s OK. I can live with it.
For what it’s worth, the whole “Cuckoo for Coco Puffs” meme was actually something my siblings and I would say back when you were on KALB. We were kids, and in the orbit of Alexandria, you, as the local news anchor, were like a celebrity. It was just a harmless joke, a play on words, a tongue-twister. At the time, there was a restaurant in Alexandria called Cuco’s, and we’d say, “Steve Coco is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs at Cuco’s.” The truth is, believe it or not, I actually voted for you when you ran for the Police Jury.
I mention all of this to provide some context: The only reason Juror Coco even spoke about me during a sworn deposition is because he is a witness in a defamation case brought forward by the local attorney blogger against another local blogger. As an incredible as it may seem, this attorney is suing someone else for defamation of character, and even more incredibly, to me, he found another attorney to represent him.
To me, it’s complete lunacy and audacious hypocrisy.
But I digress.
My point is simply this: When someone else spends years (literally) attempting to define you as some sort of entitled, unaccomplished, parasitic “gimp” (his word), I think you have a right to defend yourself. When an elected official claims under sworn deposition that you’re totally “not credible,” lack any real “job” experience, and should be pitied because of your physical condition, I think you have a right to call that person out, to correct the record.
But how does this have anything to do with the movie Hot Coffee or the Gourley family? It’s simple: Dismissing someone else on the basis of their physical disability is a way of marginalizing them; it’s a way of minimizing their accomplishments and their humanity.
Police Juror Steve Coco says he “feels sorry for” me as he defends a man who routinely calls me a “gimp,” maliciously attacks my late father, and repeatedly lies about my experience and my qualifications.
There’s a reason many people believe subtle bigotry is worse than overt bigotry: Because subtle bigotry can be insidiously pervasive. It’s easy enough to call out someone for being an overt bigot, but it’s far more difficult to explain the ways in which coded language can transmit and promote the same exact type of hatred… only in a way that may appear, on the surface, to be less direct or obvious.
Lordy, you know how to keep that chin up! You are an incredible writer, one of the most intelligent persons I know — one I’ve known for almost my entire life — and, Casey is right, incredibly inspiring.
With all my love
all my luck to take to Dallas,
You’re damned right Lamar!
No one is going to stand up for your defense against this reprehensible behavior better than you. Stay at it. This man -and any with his line of thought or beliefs- has no business whatsoever in public office.
As for your apprehension regarding peoples personal impressions of you upon reading your replies to this mans foolishness, worry not. Steve Coco is revealed quite eloquently as the slug he truly is.
Clearly, in a battle of wits he has come unarmed. The absolutely amazing thing about this is that Mr. Coco’s clueless ignorance is palpable.
There can be no doubt he simply is not equipped to duel with you any fashion. Shame on him for sure if he found himself in the unfortunate position to have to walk a single city block in your shoes. Uggghh, now “that” conjures a pitiful sight indeed.
No shame in your corner whatsoever.
As a postscript: Steve Coco was recently defeated in his re-election attempt.
You’ve ALWAYS been an inspiration to Owen and to me. Some of his LUMCON stories about you were funny, but touching. We know personally some of the times you have been maligned for being disabled or physically challenged. But Owen felt it was his blessing to have you in his classes. It has been my blessing to know you and members of your family. We have/ had many relationships with different members of your family and each has been a gift to us.
I’m sorry that former Juror Coco saw fit to make those sleazy comments about you. But thankfully, you are above that and can only feel contempt for someone who makes those false statements. Anyone who really knows Lamar White, the person, is aware that Mr. Coco’s remarks were false and extremely rude.
Keep up your good work. We continue to look forward to a bright future for you. Our best to you, and to your family.
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