EDITORIAL: It's Not Just About George Floyd But About Subtle Racism, Too
Too many Sullivan County public officials can't say his name. GEORGE FLOYD. Heck, they can't even say the word RACISM.
More than two weeks after the Floyd murder video went online, there remains a stunning silence from elected officials and other institutions.
Sullivan County Legislature? Town Supervisors?
One exception we noticed has been Fallsburg Supervisor Steve Vegliante - who has also brought his town board along to start a dialogue, to join My Brother’s Keeper, and who, with the Fallsburg Police, participated in a Black Lives Matter demonstration last weekend.
Today (Thursday), there was an inspiring and powerful statement issued by the Monticello Central School District, especially the part that the officials there are committed to being an “anti-racist” district. More of that from other districts would be so welcome.
Perhaps the fear among some in this County is that by protesting racial inequality or racial profiling or police brutality or the school-to-prison pipeline elsewhere, that somehow it means you are anti-law enforcement. NO, you can be pro-police and anti-racist. We know that because many police officers around the country took a knee, gave a hug or demonstrated/marched with protestors in recent weeks. More importantly, they also started a dialogue in their communities that needed to happen.
And just so we are clear, this media outlet condemns the violence and looting that erupted in some places and that detracted from the hundreds of thousands who marched and protested peacefully. It was sad to see videos of a Minnesota police department under siege and fires burning down businesses in some cities - and most sad to see that some in law enforcement were killed and injured who were not acting aggressively towards civilians.
By the same token, it has been also disturbing to see on video some in law enforcement attack innocent civilians exercising their First Amendment rights, like what we saw a few days ago in Buffalo and last week in Washington, D.C., where chemical agents were used on protestors without warning near The White House and others brutalized civilians and media with their shields.
Sullivan County largely has devoted law enforcement officers dedicated to being part of their communities. A great example of that was Village of Liberty officers reportedly joining a basketball game with some local kids just a few nights ago. We need more of that, for sure, but the Village of Liberty could also could use some more diversity in its ranks to better reflect the population it serves.
The narrative emerging from the George Floyd protests worldwide and in Sullivan is that it’s much more than about a few bad cops.
It’s about institutional racism.
Sometimes it’s overt, like we see on some cesspool Facebook posts, but more often, it’s subtle.
Take the District Attorney’s Office. There has never been an African-American Assistant District Attorney. That disturbing legacy is on former District Attorney Steve Lungen and former District Attorney Jim Farrell.
Perhaps the most obvious place where African-Americans have had zero representation is in the Sullivan County Legislature, where there has also only been one Latino legislator, Luis Alvarez.
And spare me the “well, there are not enough good candidates.” There are.
As a society, we must try harder to enable, encourage and promote people of color in places where doors have too often been closed. It’s hard to believe that is still the challenge more than 50 years after the painful civil rights movement was supposed to change all that.
The same officials who can’t bring themselves to publicly empathize with the African American community in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder are very much the same Sullivan County officials who were silent when swastikas were painted in Cochecton and Narrowsburg last year - and largely silent about the Raymond Jones "N-word" incident in Monticello, also captured on video last month.
(And regarding the Jones' matter, it's disturbing that Village of Monticello Mayor Gary Sommers, trustee Charlie Sabatino, trustee Carmen Rue and trustee Rochelle Massey stayed silent about this for so long. It's good to see the public outcry over this and demands for change. In our view, Sommers had the authority to at least suspend Jones immediately upon learning about the video and then he could have asked Village attorney Michael Davidoff to provide legal counsel on how far he could take it towards possible termination. Instead, Sommers was reactive when he could have been proactive in the face of blatant, bile bigotry).
It’s largely the same Sullivan people in power who cheerfully promote Sullivan Catskills as a tourism mecca while three homes display Confederate flags as part of the “Welcome Wagon” in Jeffersonville, a Village that defines the word "comeback" probably more than any Sullivan community in recent years. Despite the resurgence of community and commerce in Jeff, though, here's little local outcry about the flags that celebrate slavery.
Sullivan County is a diverse community that is going to have more people of color, particularly from the Latino community, in coming years and decades.
At what point do we all EMBRACE diversity, see each other as human beings and lift each other up?