Editor’s note: Below is mayor David McCauley’s full statement on racism from the Thursday, June 4 Buckhannon City Council meeting.
BUCKHANNON – Good evening. For the past three months now, we’ve started our Council meetings discussing pandemic matters. I’m digressing from that practice this evening, because there’s something even more important occurring across our nation right now. Citizens expect their leaders to weigh in on events of concern to them especially during crises.
So, I suppose tonight’s address may be seen by some as merely obligatory words, another flapping of the jaws by someone who offers few answers. Admittedly, I have few answers, but I do want to share some ideas as we move forward as a community being mindful of that horrible event occurring in Minneapolis on May 25 that now 10 days later continues to resonate throughout our country. The videoed killing of George Floyd that we’ve watched over and over has shaken us to our core.
There were so many forebodings, warning shots if you will, that for whatever reason we as a society collectively failed to heed. I opened our August 17, 2017 City Council meeting with thoughts on the riot in Charlottesville, Virginia. My opening statement that evening included this passage:
“In wake of the horrible events occurring in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, we here in our Buckhannon-Upshur community need to be united and vigilant in our rejection of hate and those who would seek to exploit it here. Charlottesville is only 174 miles from Buckhannon. It takes but three-and-a-half hours to get to there from here.”
“By almost all accounts, Charlottesville also had been seen as an inviting, tolerant and inclusive community, the home to one of our nation’s pre-eminent institutions of higher education, the University of Virginia. What happened in Charlottesville could happen anywhere.”
Some scoffed at those remarks.
Out of Charlottesville, we organized our Diversity Appreciation Coalition. We came together to recognize Hall of Fame football coach Ace Mumford, a black man who was born just a couple of blocks down the street on Sedgwick Street. We recognized Yee B. Doo, a former laundry operator from the 1920s and an emigrant from China. Out of that riot in Virginia, our City began to sponsor the lighting of the menorah each December in Jawbone Park.
We have performed our 82 sentences of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during Black History Month each February. We have actively celebrated Women’s History Month in March by honoring great women of our community’s past such as Jean Lee Latham, Binky Poundstone, Joyce Stockert and Mary Gibson. We’ve supported PrideFest in June in Jawbone Park. We’ve sponsored exercises to heighten awareness of the need to be ADA-compliant as we seek to improve inclusion of all of those with disabilities in all that we do. Our City has supported giving fresh chances and hope to recovering addicts while paying tribute to those who’ve died from the drug scourge during Black Balloon Day and hearing the testimonials of those who’re in recovery during our Hope and Help Assemblies.
Our own police department began the labor-intense process of seeking full, professional accreditation through CALEA which exercise among many other things includes commitment and ownership by ALL of our officers to maintaining respect for ALL people at ALL times. I’ll ask Chief Gregory to comment on his Department’s efforts in a few minutes. We need to call upon our Diversity Appreciation Coalition again to make recommendations as to how we as a community may contribute solutions to ending racism here, to develop our own path forward.
I’ve held up this little orange sign for the past three years now as a reminder that we all need to be more welcoming, inviting and inclusive with our college students regardless as to their race, ethnicity, religion or orientation. We want them all to feel that this really is THEIR home among THESE hills. Soon, a new wave of Wesleyan students will come to be a part of our community. A number of them will be black. What will we do? How shall we greet them? I encourage everyone to display this sign available to you at City Hall- bearing the simple message:
‘WE ARE ALL IN IT TOGETHER!
& by “WE” … WE mean everyone.
Everyone is a valued someone here.
You are WE-lcome here!
Our community, our citizenry, our local government, our activities, our businesses, our schools and special events are all-inclusive.
It doesn’t matter what your race, religion, gender, orientation or disability is: as YOU are part of US! Buckhannon is glad YOU are here!’
So, however you’re feeling this evening – sad, angry, numb, whatever your sensation is – there are some things I’d ask us all to think about together as a community as we seek that positive path forward. First, how do we move past racism & prejudice of all forms? How can we embrace the ideals that we as a people must include everyone in all that we do while recognizing the obvious reward that we are stronger as a society when we are inclusive? How do we come to the collective realization that there are NO second-class citizens, that we all stand equal before the law and within our societal institutions?
Silence is not an option. Silence respecting an issue such as racism makes us complicit. We must find our voices in support of our friends who for far too long have been victimized by racism.
Second, how do we peacefully maintain our resolve to effect substantial changes as we achieve inclusivity? Our answers cannot come from violence, or rioting, or looting, or tearing down those very facilities that we all aspire to enjoy together. Destruction of any property, public or private, is senseless and cannot be tolerated by any of us no matter how outraged we are by our previous failures to defeat racism.
One of those interviewed during the past few days said something very poignant along these lines. “Don’t act what you oppose.” What happened to George Floyd and what has happened to all too many black Americans is criminal. Don’t do something that’s criminal to protest criminality. Through peaceful protests & demonstration, we all together can change the world for the better.
Third, and being mindful that one bad apple does NOT spoil the barrel, we need to appreciate how fortunate we are to have excellent, highly trained and professional, police officers here in our community, and, I believe, throughout most of our country who would never subscribe to anything remotely resembling what occurred on May 25 in Minneapolis. We can easily reconcile our subscription to the notions addressed in the first two points with this third one. If there are systemic problems with police in our society, we must move to eradicate those issues through proper channels. Chief Gregory, City Attorney Tom O’Neill and I are collaborating on an exercise with the members of our police department that will re-emphasize and reiterate our City’s commitment to treating everyone fairly & the same- embracing total professionalism.
We… all of us together… are Buckhannon strong. As we engage in our moment of silent reflection this evening, I ask that we particularly keep close to our hearts the victims of racism everywhere, understanding that there are residents here among us, including black residents, who are hurting and afraid this evening. Let’s lessen their pain and fear. Tomorrow evening at 7:30, our community will come together in Jawbone Park for a peaceful vigil, our next step in ending racism. Please keep all of our friends in need in our best thoughts & prayers this evening.