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A response to Dr. Anderson’s “Attack on city leaders was unwarranted”

13 August 2020

On Sunday evening, 2 August 2020, I read an opinion piece by Dr. James Anderson, former chancellor of Fayetteville State University. His comments appeared in the 31 July edition of the Fayetteville Observer. Primarily, Dr. Anderson very strongly condemned what Bill Bowman, publisher of Up & Coming Weekly newspaper, wrote in a column titled, “Leadership: What Fayetteville needs now”. It appeared in the 21 July issue.

I also quickly grew to appreciate his willingness to speak forthrightly regarding the challenging issues of our time.

Almost five years ago, Bill Bowman invited me to write a column for his newspaper. We agreed that I would do so. My column was in the paper every other week until just recently when I ended it in order to take on some other projects. Over the years, I got to know Bill Bowman; got to see his love for others and for Fayetteville. I also quickly grew to appreciate his willingness to speak forthrightly regarding the challenging issues of our time. Consequently, reading what Dr. Anderson wrote was a gut-wrenching experience.

The following paragraph from Bill’s column gives a good feel for what apparently sent Anderson on his tear. Bowman writes that there is “…plotting to take away our freedoms and our country”. The next paragraph says: 

“Fayetteville is only one microcosm of that malicious movement, and it boils down to our leadership. Or, in Fayetteville’s case, our lack of leadership. Mayor Mitch Colvin and Police Chief Gina Hawkins have perpetrated a harsh injustice on our community by not implementing and demonstrating leadership that is representative of the safety and well-being of all the citizens of the Fayetteville community. By encouraging, endorsing and siding with the protesting Black community, they left the white, Asian, Hispanic and Native American Fayetteville citizens wondering what happened to their representation and assurance of safety and protection?”

Anderson starts by accusing Bowman of “confounding several things”. I read the publisher’s point to be succinct. He says Mayor Colvin and Police Chief Gina Hawkins failed this community when they did not allow police and other appropriate personnel to stop the damage to property that took place during a protest downtown on 30 May 2020. That is a statement of fact. Mayor Colvin has made it clear that a decision was made not to attempt to stop the damaging of buildings. His argument was that the consequences would likely have been made worse by police intervention. The problem with that assessment is that government had a responsibility to protect those downtown properties. Failure to do so rightfully allows for questioning city leadership.

Then comes three comments from Anderson regarding Bowman’s statement that the actions “perpetrated a harsh injustice on our community”.  The first contends that “leaders should be evaluated on their complete portfolio of work and not single incidents”. I contend that failure to protect those properties was so egregious that, taken alone, there is sufficient reason to question the quality and fairness of city leadership. However, go on to consider the chaos created by how city leadership has, and is, handling calls for tearing down the Market House, building the North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center, protesters camping out at the Market House to the detriment of downtown businesses, and promoting a climate conducive to economic growth. None of these issues are being addressed in a productive and unifying fashion.

Then Dr. Anderson writes, “Second, we have no right to assign motives for their actions if we have not asked them.” For all the time that I have been writing for publication, it has been my practice to give individuals about whom I write an opportunity to give me input. I have gone so far as to allow subjects to review my text for accuracy. I have consistently followed this process with Mayor Colvin.  After the first couple of exchanges, when the mayor obviously disagreed with my opinions, he stopped responding to my email offers to consider his input.

The latest instance of no response from Mayor Colvin was an email I sent to him and all members of Council. It was sent on 16 July 2020. To date, I have not heard from the mayor. In fact, only a minuscule number of Council members have bothered to respond. That email offered each of them an opportunity to address an opinion piece that I am writing and the email summarized my focus as follows (The full email is available at karlmerritt.com under “Blog”.):

“The focus is on how individuals, governmental officials, and various entities have responded, and continue to respond, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. It seems to me that the resulting efforts are so heavily focused on various conditions allegedly negatively affecting Black Americans that the White population is being neglected while, even worse, being painted as the enemy. Note, I am not alone in this thinking. I saw a post on Nextdoor recently where a lady said exactly the same thing. She and I are not alone.”

The point here is that I have zero belief that Mayor Colvin would have responded if Bill Bowman had attempted to contact him. Further, from reliable media reports and input from people in the downtown area, Bowman had sound substantiation for everything he wrote.

After a brief third point commending people who take on major responsibilities, Anderson moves to the prevailing argument that there are genuine protesters, then rioters and looters. Then comes his contention that because rioters and looters constitute a smaller percentage than the protesters, there should be conversation as to how their disruptions might be addressed. It would appear to me the first step should be to stop them from damaging the property of other people, while adversely impacting livelihoods. As to conversation, it would be interesting to see what groups would actually be invited and which voices would seriously be heard. In today’s environment, my guess is that White Americans need not expect an invitation and, if invited, should not speak unless they follow the Black Lives Matter script.

In the event all else fails, now Bowman gets hit with the race card. Anderson writes, “This is not the first time that Bill has applied the broad brushstrokes of race to indict a Black person.” Without giving the Black person’s name, he recounts how Bowman “…placed a Black man’s face on the cover of his newspaper and inserted this man’s face onto a facsimile of a wanted poster. This person’s purported crime was that he was running for public office while being investigated for some questionable personal quandaries.”

He is referring to Tyrone Williams, who was serving on Fayetteville City Council in early 2018. Following is a section from an article in the Fayetteville Observer by Greg Barnes titled, “Williams resigns council seat”:

“Williams came under fire nearly a month ago after The Fayetteville Observer published a secret audio recording of a December meeting during which he told a developer that he could resolve a minor issue with a property title for $15,000. The council immediately asked Williams to resign. When he refused, the council began a process of forcible removal that would have taken a few months.”

Williams was forced from office because of his action that Dr. Anderson characterizes as “some questionable personal quandaries”. He further minimizes the situation by saying that, to his knowledge, Williams has never been convicted. Was it wise for Bill Bowman to use that wanted poster in America’s “with no proof or fairness, racist around every corner” atmosphere? No. Does it show him to be racist? Absolutely not.

Finally, Anderson challenges Bowman’s contention that people are afraid to speak up; Bill lays those fears out. Anderson apparently thinks Bill’s comments here only apply to White citizens. I know, firsthand, that what he says in this regard is absolutely true. I hear it from Black and White citizens. The unsettling treatment I receive as a conservative Black Republican would apparently shock Dr. Anderson. Anybody who follows Bill Bowman’s advice and speaks up better be prepared for rough seas; but he is right, we better speak up and take action.

I have tremendous respect for Dr. James Anderson, but I will not be quiet in the face of his unjustified broadside on Bill Bowman.

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