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End the Fermenting of Racial Division

24 November 2015

My column in the 11 November 2015 edition of Up and Coming Weekly was titled “Operation Inasmuch Shelter Proposal: Helpful or Hurtful?” The column examined the primary points made by those in favor of and opposed to the organization receiving a Special Use Permit to construct a 40-bed homeless shelter. After much discussion, the request was approved during a meeting of the Fayetteville City Council on 9 November. In this column my intention is to reflect on the general tone, substance, and impact of the Council’s meeting.

Until just recently, Doug Peters was CEO of the Greater Fayetteville Chamber. In a radio interview some time ago, he said, “We sell the product in place.” My understanding is that Peters was saying prospective companies are presented with the best picture of our area that is possible based on what is here and what is happening. I am convinced that part of the “product in place” is the conduct, professionalism, and effectiveness of our elected officials. Just as a lack of parks, tennis courts, swimming pools, and so forth adversely affects our ability to attract job-producing businesses, I contend in the strongest possible terms that our elected officials are a major component of the product. Citizens need to recognize this component and respond accordingly. That is, where the conduct of those elected to do the peoples’ business adversely impacts “the product in place,” they should be called to account.

Without doubt, what I witnessed from some Council members in that meeting on 9 November rated with the most obvious and destructive fermenting of racial division I have ever seen…and I have seen a good bit. As used here, from the Standard Dictionary, “ferment” means “to stir with anger; agitate or be agitated by emotions or passions.” That is what I saw from Council members Chalmers McDougald, Mitch Colvin, and Larry Wright. Opposition to the request from Operation Inasmuch was led by Pastor Artie Odom Jr., Saint Luke AME Church. The church is across the street from Inasmuch and next to the lot where the shelter is to be built. From my observation, Saint Luke is a predominately if not all black congregation. The surrounding neighborhood is similar. The Council meeting was attended by a rather large contingent from Saint Luke and the neighborhood. In this setting, the three Council members made comments that fed the notion that if this request were approved, it would be because the opposition was from a black church and black community. With zero proof of such a claim, this position was pursued time and time again. This fermenting of racial division is a tactic routinely employed by politicians and others because it has been a course to winning elections. That is, convince black voters that white people and “the system” are against them, but the “racial division fermenting candidate” is on their side. With that convincing normally come the votes of most black citizens.

From the 9 November Council meeting, let me summarize some specifics that paint a word picture of what I said at the end of the preceding paragraph. The start times below indicate where the referenced comments appear on a video of the meeting that is available on the City’s website at: http://www.fayettevillenc.gov/government/city-council/view-city-council-meetings-online.

1:01:17 Colvin asks Craig Harmon, the City staffer responsible for presenting the Inasmuch request, if there are other areas with a high concentration of transitional housing. Harmon talks about a concentration east of the Market House, but also explains that the five houses owned by Inasmuch are not transitional housing as defined in the City’s Uniform Development Ordinance (UDO). At 1:56:47 Colvin recaps his understanding of what has been said. Without any research or expert testimony having been presented in this meeting, Colvin says that citizens’ life investments will lose value. Research addressed in my 11 November article clearly challenges this conclusion. In spite of Harmon’s comment on a concentration of transitional housing east of the Market House, Colvin says there are no other such concentrations.

1:20:38 Wright asks about historical value of the neighborhood. Harmon references a study that was done of the neighborhood when there was an effort to have Orange Street School made a National Registry District. He explains that due to degradation of the neighborhood, especially because of so many vacant lots, it was determined the fabric of the neighborhood had been lost. Designation was not approved. In spite of this fact, during comments at 2:02:54, Wright says, “I would rather go with the people and how they feel based upon the fact of the historical use of that property and the vision of the city going forward.”

1:28:21 Councilman Bill Crisp reviews aloud the eight findings of fact that must be met in order for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to be approved. He concludes those findings of fact have been met.

2:21:33 Following comments by Councilman Jim Arp, Colvin argues that the community has been neglected and mentions that Arp does not live there. In this section, Colvin says, “…what’s not fair is that we worry about the needs of the First Presbyterian Church and Saint Johns and we neglect Saint Luke because it’s a minority church.”

2:24:22 After initial comments, Wright says, “In order for us to not even consider what I say that the plight that this neighborhood is already under a minority community and that we would look beyond that and say we gotta stick to these eight points while you have people that are already impoverished in a community that is already degrading.”

2:28:12 McDougald says to Councilwoman Kady Ann Davy who represents the area in question, “…I say to you that you failed the people that you represent.”

2:30:00 McDougald says, “While we talk about Saint John and the Presbyterian Church complaining about people walking through the property, we did not hear the voices of the people who have folk walking in and staying and doing insidious things within the worship center. But we were more concerned about, let’s just face it, about the white neighborhood with folk walking through on the land and we were not concerned about the black community where folk come inside the worship center and cut-up.” Arp takes exception to what McDougald is saying and McDougald responds, “I didn’t ask for your exception. You may take exception, but the truth is the truth no matter who tells it and a lie is a lie even if you say it.” Arp says he is “just as concerned about the people that walk into Saint Luke’s Church as I am about walking…” McDougald cuts him off and says, “No you are not , Jim.”

2:23:14 Crisp says, “I am going to ask Council members to stop throwing knives at each other up here.” He goes on to talk about what is required in order to successfully do the work of the Council.

My contention is that “Fermenting of Racial Division” has some identifiable characteristics. Among these are disregard of facts and research findings, presenting conclusions that reflect little or no reasoning, employing the strongest of intimidation tactics, a willingness to thwart law and policy, convincing black Americans of our victim status while labeling white Americans as uncaring and/or racist, and arguing with passion while appealing to the emotions of the target audience. Every one of these elements was present in the conduct of Council members McDougald, Colvin, and Wright.

After watching this meeting on television, one Fayetteville citizen said to me, “Sue Byrd should close Operation Inasmuch and go enjoy life.” Sue won’t do it because she is “called.” Other citizens of this city are and will leave because they are frustrated by the kind of show that happened on 9 November and the ineffectiveness of the governing bodies in our area. Further, it must be that businesses considering locating in Fayetteville look at this element of “the product in place” and substantially count it against locating in our area. Beyond all of this, the kind of conduct addressed in this column is unfair and downright inhumane. This fermenting of racial division must end.

Thankfully, six Council persons did not bow to the pressure applied to them. In spite of all, maybe there is hope.

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