“Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?‘
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular. But one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I recall feeling somewhat bewildered when I first read the phrase in a national newspaper – “Homeland Insecurity.” My initial reaction was that this was a poor attempt at sarcasm. Unfortunately, I later came to see the truth behind the play on words.
For several years, I served as the first-ever Program Manager for the Anti-Harassment Unit at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Headquarters. When I took the oath in August 2012 to serve DHS and the American people with honor and integrity, it was perhaps the proudest day of my professional career. Regrettably, I soon discovered that not everyone within DHS management took the oath quite as solemnly as I had.
It is no secret that Washington, DC is a political town, and I mean that mostly in the pejorative sense. Yet I suppose I came to DHS somewhat naïve, as I fully expected to see nothing but the strongest, unfettered commitment to every employee’s basic human right to work within an environment free of harassment, bullying, and management retaliation.
I fully anticipated that enforcement of anti-harassment laws and policies would occur without fear or favor, and without regard to one’s rank, title, privilege or status. In other words, without regard to politics.
Alas, I was wrong.
It did not take long before I would acquire a new title at DHS Headquarters – Whistleblower. Asked repeatedly and cajoled by senior management at that time to communicate what amounted to a falsehood to Congress, I vehemently refused. I would not compromise my personal honor in order to protect the Department’s public relations image.
Knowing that there would be a heavy price to pay for my steadfastness, I nevertheless did not alter my ethical course. Having been a public servant in municipal, state and federal government for over 21 years, serving as the Human Rights Director of two municipalities and a police executive in Boston – upholding the public trust had always been my mantra and moral compass.
My anticipation of management retaliation was not overestimated. The acts of demoralization were brutal and fierce. Yet my resolve to remain true to my calling as a public servant was unyielding. Having risen above my ghetto upbringing to become an alum of Cornell, Harvard, earn my law license in the nation’s capital – I can teach a course on resilience.
In efforts to protect my health, I left the agency – but I did not leave the fight. On April 13, 2018, I tendered my resignation from DHS – effective immediately. On July 27, 2018, with great satisfaction I settled my whistleblower retaliation case, which read in relevant part:
United States Merit Systems Protection Board
Shenandoah Titus vs. United States Department of Homeland Security
Talking about the proverbial David vs. Goliath!
Yet the Biblically astute knows that the story ended well for David, despite the overwhelming odds. As it did for me.
I successfully obtained each of my goals! The award amount was substantial and meaningful. I do not disclose the settlement award amount because money was never my motivating factor in taking legal action against DHS.
Nevertheless, my settlement victory was poetic justice. Part of the funds acquired from my settlement award were used to author a book, and to establish a national office designed to advocate for whistleblowers and help eradicate workplace bullying and retaliation.
Reflecting on my wretched journey of managerial abuse at DHS, I feel a profound sense of sorrow. As a matter of public record, one of the principle offices responsible for the abuse I suffered happened to be, of all entities – the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties – the very office charged with protecting civil rights.
Each morning as I approached the elevator leading to my floor, in the background stood a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., beaming with pride as President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The stark contrast between what Dr. King and others fought and died for, versus the abuse I would endure daily from those who were supposed to be custodians of civil rights, wore heavily upon my heart.
It still does.
Although no longer a DHS official, I shall forever treasure the opportunity I enjoyed to serve our nation. It was indeed an honor to help protect the homeland.
Yet now, upon reflection, I fully understand the media phrase “Homeland Insecurity.” And that is a sad commentary.
Attorney Shenandoah Titus is a member of the District of Columbia (DC) Court of Appeals Bar and he is a Certified Fraud Examiner®.
He is the author of The Whistleblower: Defeating Bullies, Harassers & Management Gang Retaliation (available on Amazon) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07N98RFTG
He is the Founder and CEO of WARN (Whistleblower Anti-Bullying Resource Network). Visit him at www.warn-honor.com for more information.