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"It was like a KKK party," recalls Mallek. "I found that these people weren't playing around, unfortunately. I guess I'm a single-family cross-burning waiting to happen. I'm white, but I'm Jewish, and my wife is Mexican. ... My son, who I love very much, would fall under that copper-colored category. He's very dark."
Mallek arranged for a new job as police chief in San Benito, Texas, and quit the Atlanta FPS post. He subsequently filed a discrimination complaint against the federal agency with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming the FPS had fostered a hostile, racist working environment in its Atlanta office.
Mallek then began an unexpected trip through a realm as brutal, in its own way, as the federal bureaucracy: small-town law enforcement in the Deep South.
Soon after starting work in San Benito, Mallek launched a police crackdown on some allegedly drug-dealing, whoremongering bars that happened to be owned by some local officials, he says. His city employment contract was nullified after 13 days of this work. Mallek then applied for various federal jobs and was tentatively accepted for an FPS job, back in San Francisco, pending a routine background check. But there were some paperwork delays, officials told him.
So Mallek took a job as police chief in Duncan, S.C., to bide his time.
"Those small Southern places can be tough," Mallek notes. But in Duncan, "after I flushed out the initial moonshine mentality, I had a successful career there for about seven years." He fired one of his officers for taking bribes, and the Town Council backed him. Toward the end of his tenure, though, Mallek says, he discovered associates of a newly elected mayor may have been engaging in illegal activity.
"A short time after that, I came up for my contract to be renewed," Mallek says.
Next, he got a job as a police captain in Winder, Ga.
One day, Mallek recalls, one of his co-workers commented within earshot to a fellow employee, "How do you think that shirt would look on a Jew?"
"I said, 'What did you say?' He said, 'You heard me: How do you think a Jew would look in that shirt?' I said, 'What do you mean by that?' He said, 'You're Jewish, aren't you?'"
Mallek complained to his superior and was later dismissed, he says. He then became a sheriff's deputy in Oconee County, Ga., a job that proved satisfying. Newspaper accounts from 2001 describe Mallek pursuing a gang of bank robbers as they fired on him with two assault rifles. Mallek used his vehicle to ram the side of the robbers' car, flipping them into some chicken coops.
"I almost killed some bank robbers, once," is Mallek's way of recalling the incident. "But I prayed they were OK."
I only have one, obviously biased side of the full story as to why Mallek spent 12 years going from job to job in the American Southeast. All the same, I can attest from a stint as a cops and courts reporter in rural Virginia that it's not unusual for law enforcement officers in such places to openly display frightening strains of racial prejudice, incompetence, and/or corruption.
Fortunately, redneck Southern cops don't form the first line of law enforcement protection against terrorist attack.
Unfortunately, the vast quarry of bureaucratic hellholes that now makes up the Department of Homeland Security does.
While Mallek migrated across the Southeast, his federal job papers languished inexplicably.
Every few months during his Southern sojourn, Mallek would check in with the FPS personnel office to ask when he should report for duty in San Francisco. In 1995, the agency said his application was pending "in the central office." In 1996, paperwork for his required background check was lost, the agency said. After Mallek filed a complaint, the EEOC ruled that the agency had delayed his application in retaliation for his hostile work environment complaint at the Atlanta FPS office in 1992. The commission ordered that Mallek be hired immediately and given back pay. FPS officials ignored the order; and in 1998, the agency said it had "reconsidered" its decision to hire him.
But last spring, the EEOC declared that the FPS had no excuse not to have hired Mallek in 1993 and ordered the agency to take him on immediately and make Mallek financially whole for what should have been more than 11 years of FPS employment -- and all within 60 days.
Fifteen months later, the agency allowed Mallek to show up for work at the Federal Building here. It still hasn't given him back pay.
A Homeland Security flack hadn't found someone who would comment on the matter by press time.
If you want to get a good estimate on how safe Americans should feel during the age of terror, forget everything you've read about the U.S. military stirring up a new terrorist breeding ground in Iraq; al Qaeda's on-the-lam leadership and its continued recruiting binge; anti-terrorism funding that goes mostly to states that don't need it; or airports, seaports, chemical plants, energy facilities, and other lethal targets that remain unprotected.
No, if you want to get a feel for the keenness of America's anti-terrorist bulwark during the lead-up to the third anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, head down to 450 Golden Gate Ave. and spend a few hours lounging around with Barry Mallek. He won't mind; he has all the time in the world.