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McGuire VA Medical Center investigates racist cartoon

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 5:31 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A U.S. Marine veteran is calling out his supervisor as racist after he received a cartoon video by text that uses the N-word and includes “beast-like” portrayals of Black men.

Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center confirms it happened and says it took swift disciplinary action after learning about the video.

The offensive animation surfaced while the hospital was investigating other problems, including allegations of racist behavior and a hostile work environment created by managers, in the prosthetics department. That investigation is still active.

The mocking cartoon shows two guys excited about a business that turns Black people white for 99 cents. But, only one has enough money. Their plan is for the guy with the dollar to go in, turn white, come out and give his change to the other guy so he can also turn white.

“He looks amazingly white. Just like a white person. You know this joke?” says a man in the video. “Oh, man that looks great. Alright. Give me the penny. I’m going to go in.”

A man in the video says “get a job, N-----.”

The racist animation was sent to Loren Tower’s personal phone from his manager’s personal phone back in June 2018. Tower says Konrad Walz is his supervisor and also served as Acting Chief of Prosthetics.

“Konrad is racist,” Tower said.

During an hour-long conversation with On Your Side Investigator Diane Walker, Walz said he did “something stupid.”

“I did something stupid. I’m incredibly sorry. That is not me,” Walz said.

Walz says he and Tower “always sent funny things back and forth” but added “the cartoon was inappropriate.”

He also said the reason there’s only one video from three years ago is because: “It’s not me.”

Walz said it was his phone but he did not send it. He says he was out with a group friends when it happened.

“I felt like my gut was ripped out of me,” Tower said of how he felt when receiving the video. “It’s just not funny, you know.”

“That very last part. It just makes me want to cry. I don’t see where that’s humorous at all,” Tower said of the video’s ending that included the N-word.

Tower says he didn’t report the encounter at the time because he probably “didn’t even know it was there.”

Tower says he remembered the cartoon and reported it in December 2020 when McGuire began an unrelated, fact-finding investigation after employees complained, in general, of discrimination and a hostile work environment.

Both men are federal employees responsible for the construction of prosthetic limbs for injured and sick veterans from all ethnicities and backgrounds. Walz was reprimanded, although he would not say how.

In a statement, Medical Center Director Ronald Johnson says in part:

“... leadership has no tolerance for action or communication among employees that exhibit discrimination, hostility or disparaging humor. ... Due to the nature of the video and its offensive and disparaging racial context, appropriate disciplinary action was rendered in early February 2021.”

“I think he should be fired,” Tower said. “I think he should be relieved of his duties because he is not manager material.”

“It’s way over the top. It doesn’t pretend to be like a funny joke. It’s a blatantly racist joke,” Tower said.

VCU’s Dr. Shawn Utsey provided a professional perspective to the video.

“The cartoon characters are ape-like,” Utsey said. “The lips, even the grunts they’re making, are animalistic. Obviously, the words, ‘get a job N-----.’”

Utsey researches the psychological and physiological effects of race-related stress. He says it depends on the person, but it’s potentially very harmful.

“He may have been paralyzed as to what to do with this,” Utsey said. “Like, this is disturbing, but what do I do with it? ... If I tell somebody, they’ll accuse me of being racist, or they may ask why I didn’t share it before. I wouldn’t judge the individual based on having not revealed it sooner.”

This isn’t the first time McGuire veterans hospital has had to investigate this type of behavior involving a manager. Back in 2015, an angry tirade was posted to YouTube in which Supervisor David Dooley called Black employees “goons,” “buckwheats” and dropped F-bombs.

When Walker confronted Dooley about the incident in 2015, he denied being a racist person.

“Basically what that was, was me in anger, and I said a few words that I shouldn’t have said, ok,” Dooley said in 2015. “And everybody has done it as well you know. Ok. and I didn’t say it to hurt anybody, because I thought I was talking to myself and one other person that egged me on.”

Back then, employees who contacted NBC12 said McGuire was sending the wrong message by returning Dooley to his job. There are those who feel exactly the same about Konrad Walz and the insulting cartoon.

“If the administration was serious about rebuilding that culture, making people feel safe, which is important for moral, productivity, they would have to transfer him, if not fire him, transfer him somewhere else,” Utsey said.

“Now, he has compromised relationships that he may have established with his workers,” Utsey said. “So, I don’t think you’ll ever realize how much it affects the rank-and-file folk.”

Four employees contacted NBC12 but would not go on camera. They all said the two managers they considered to be racist were moved out of prosthetics, but employees have no official assurance those managers won’t come back.

One of the four stood up for Konrad Walz and said the problem in the prosthetics department is not racism. They say it’s a staffing shortage and people doubling up on duties but not getting paid for it.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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