Last March, The Gulf Coast Diplomacy Council rolled Safak Pavey in a wheelchair into my office. The first disabled woman elected to the Turkish Parliament had recently been recognized by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton with nine other women as International Women of Courage.
Prior to winning her Parliament seat, Pavey had spent 15 years working for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. She returned to Turkey because she believed any democracy must have a strong opposition. Pavey wanted to speak out for women, children and persons with disabilities.
Her passion radiated from her and made a lasting impact. Our paper had recently published “Black & White” (Independent News, Feb. 23). Pavey and I talked about our broken window, how journalists were being jailed in her country, and civil rights. She had been outspoken on protecting minorities in Turkey.
“The best way to move ahead in this global world is to keep the bar high when it comes to human rights,” Pavey said. “There must be a shift in the mind set.”
Those words stuck with me. A few months later I met a rape victim and her parents. In a house less than five minutes from Pensacola City Hall, this young woman, the girlfriend of a serviceman stationed here, was brutally beaten and raped. I sat with her and her parents, who had flown here to take her home. Her face was swollen. She could barely speak because of the damage to her jaw. We cried together for about 30 minutes.
The City of Pensacola was in the middle of a crime wave, and all we were getting from the mayor and city council were “ponies & balloons” photo ops and five-hour meetings of melodrama about nothing. The police union’s big deal was a lack of confidence vote on the chief of staff.
I lost it. No father of three daughters could do otherwise. Naively I had hoped city leaders would put differences aside and push for a comprehensive plan. Instead I got a half-hearted letter from a councilman asking for a report from the police chief, and a budget amendment to move money from the mayor’s budget to police training, which was to punish his chief of staff not to fight crime.
Not one city official asked me if they could talk to the victim and offer words of assurance and comfort.
Pavey and this young woman stay with me—inspirations and reminders. Good politicians are the ones who have a passion to help the most vulnerable in our society, like Pavey. And behind every crime statistic is a real person, not a number or political weapon.
I have to become better when it comes to speaking out for those hurting and at holding the politicians accountable. And maybe, just maybe, I will keep my temper in check.