Pay Attention, Children! Doing the Right Thing Isn’t Right If It Violates A Stupid Rule!

Then, after this relaxing break, he returned to his supervisor position in Wayne County…

It appears that no-tolerance policies in the schools may not be alienating students after all. Some of them, at least in Michigan, are learning the no-tolerance way and applying it in the workplace.

Not John Chevilott, though: he just doesn’t get it, probably because when he went to school, they didn’t have no-tolerance policies. A veteran public-works employee in Wayne County, Michigan, he was mowing grass in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood when he found a loaded revolver. He called the police and waited for them to  pick up the gun, but they didn’t appear. Chevilott finished the job and took the weapon to the police after work. The gun had been stolen in 2005, records showed, and police told him that he had handled the situation well.

Wayne County, however, has a no-tolerance policy forbidding employees from possessing  weapons on work property. After all, there’s no reason for a worker to have a gun, except in the extraordinary situation where one is just hanging around, loaded, and the worker picks it up. But how often would that happen? It’s no wonder nothing about that situation was written into the rule, and rules, as they say in the schools—the schools where kids chew their pizzas into the shape of pistols and get suspended, the schools where kids disarm fellow students of knives and are expelled, and the schools where four-year-old boys kiss girls and get arrested for sexual assault—“rules are rules!”

John Chevilott, who had been on the job 23 years and scheduled to retire in two days, was fired for violating the policy, even though his supervisors understood that the gun wasn’t his, that he had turned it into police, that it was loaded, that it was as much a threat to public safety lying in the grass as any weapon brought to work by an employee, and that he had “possessed it” only to get it into the hands of law enforcement officials.  To be fair, they also suspended Chevilott’s foreman, who knew about the incident, for not reporting the infraction.

You see? The schools do educate students, and those no-tolerance policies work. They teach students to be incapable of independent judgement and common sense, and to be so frightened of the consequences of discretion that they follow rules to the letter even when the provisions of the rules make no sense in the context they are being applied. They learn this by watching how teachers and school administrators act, and what happens to the unlucky or foolish student who behaves responsibly or innocently but still violates a lurking rule. This is how you train bureaucrats. This is how you crush initiative, and stifle ethics alarms. This is how you raise citizens who refuse to act when crimes are taking place right in front of them.

But really, who can argue with the results? This is one of the reasons Detroit is the safe, thriving metropolis it is today, and that our country is in the steady hands of courageous, innovative, problem-solving leaders.


Pointer: Mike Martin (Thanks, Mike!)

Facts: Aol

Graphic: Bards Coliseum

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

12 thoughts on “Pay Attention, Children! Doing the Right Thing Isn’t Right If It Violates A Stupid Rule!

  1. He who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword.

    An immediate investigation is warranted, and if there was any deviation from procedure, no matter how slight, in firing him, those responsible should be fired themselves.

    And there is always some deviation, as it’s impossible to write procedures that are 100.000000% unambiguous and consistent.

    Naturally, such a deviation would be grounds for re-instatement.

  2. It’s a canard, and a cheap shot, and unfair, but nevertheless:

    “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach teachers. Those who can’t teach teachers BECOME SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS.”

  3. Scheduled to retire in two years. Not two days. He isn’t the felled sidekick in an 80s action movie. That would make the story truly incredible.

    I was having a hard time believing it as it is, but the link includes coverage from the local Fox affiliate including interviews with several people involved, so apparently the story is confirmed. They don’t interview or directly quote anyone responsible for the firing, though, so I wonder if there’s another side to this story. Perhaps his employers had been actively looking for an excuse to fire him. That doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it would be a better explanation than “that’s what the handbook told us to do.” Otherwise, the story is unbelievable in the sense that it’s utterly horrifying.

  4. Jack, when we agree, we agree, and when we differ, we differ big-time, but this has to be one of your finest efforts. Absolutely brilliant. Now that you have laid to rest the possibility of no tolerance policies having any redeeming value, maybe you can examine their brothers, mandatory minimum sentences.

  5. This is outrageous, of course. That said, three brief comments:

    1. Neither idiot administrators nor zero tolerance policies are the sole purview of education systems. Injecting that line of argument is a cheap shot.

    2. I agree with Edward… there’s more to this than meets the eye. No direct quotes from those doing the firing? No citation of the policy per se? And then there’s this, buried at the end of the local Fox station’s report: “Chevilott also was let go for insubordination and unauthorized access to the road yard.” It still all smacks of opportunism by the bosses, but I suspect the gun incident was a catalyst or a last straw rather than a discrete fire-able offense.

    3. It’s a good thing his union is backing him up. By extension, it’s at least sometimes a good thing public employees can unionize.

    • 1. Funny, I read the additional complaints to be an attempt to bolster the gun offense. Why use a stupid infraction if you have genuine ones?
      2. The suspension of the foreman suggests that the gun policy was enforced as reported, don’t you think?
      3. Unions have always had a legitimate and important role to play. Unfortunately, power corrupts.
      4. Agreed: no-tolerance policies are not isolated to schools. Since kids are the victims, they are just especially offensive there.

    • Rick, The lack of comment from the those responsible for the firing may indicate that “there’s more to this than meets the eye”, but more likely, its the classic dodge used by schools, the TSA, police departments, etc. when they are called out. “We can’t comment due to (take your pick) student privacy, an ongoing investigation, national security…
      That’s the beauty of zero tolerance. It gives bureaucrats cover to perpetrate all manners of injustices while hiding behind a wall of procedure.

  6. And just what should this man have done, according to his moronic bosses? He notified the police. When they didn’t show, he took it upon himself (in the apparently mistaken view that this is what good citizens should do) to take it to a police station in person. Should he, then, have left it where he found it? Who else might have taken it up, then? Note that it was found that the weapon was stolen property. Yet, the only seeming conclusion is that this is what his bosses deemed he should do. Nothing. Take no initiative and carry on like a shambling zombie until quitting time. This is the attitude inherent in an Orwellian society and is utterly at odds with that of Jefferson.

  7. This is outrageous! Whomever is In charge of this should admit this was too harsh and fix it by rehiring both men.

  8. I’m surprised that his name is the only one I see. Why doesn’t HE say who fired him. If he’s really gone, he’s beyond getting hurt if he does it.

    If things are the way the story says, no problem knowing who carried out the “POLICY”!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.