Prior to the Oct. 25 candidates forum at the Field Library, The Peekskill Post submitted three questions to moderator Bruce Apar to consider asking during the forum. One of those questions drew criticism, and it is as follows:
• The Peekskill NAACP contends that the City of Peekskill is structurally racist and that it does not hire enough minorities. Do you believe that to be true, and, if so, what can be done about it? The organization has repeatedly spoken about this at Common Council meetings and other public venues.
After Apar asked the question to the council candidates, Peekskill NAACP Vice President Gary Kellawon, who was in the audience, took issue with it.
“I’ve been requested to, not sure if it’s a retraction, you can call it whatever you want, but Gary Kellawon, who is the vice president of the NAACP, has asked me to state that the question that I asked—which was from Bryan Fumagalli—is erroneous, that the NAACP never has said or used the phrase structurally racist to describe the City of Peekskill.”
Loud applause followed.
How could we have been so off base with my “erroneous” question? Perhaps, it was because the NAACP members used the following phrases/words to describe the City of Peekskill at the May 8 Common Council meeting: systemic racism, structural racism, racism, racist, discriminating and one member said: “I am excited for Peekskill, right here at this table, for you to make moves that we can now make it so that there isn’t any racist things going on here. Are there? Of course there are, and we know there are.”
At that May 8 meeting, several members of the Peekskill NAACP addressed the city’s elected officials about what they contend are unfair hiring practices towards people of color. Specifically, they were asking that the city hire a person of color to fill an open spot in the water department. Again, while addressing the council, members of the NAACP used the following terms/words when describing the City of Peekskill’s hiring practices/process: systemic racism, structural racism, racism, racist, discriminating.
So, let’s go to the videotape, and decide just how “erroneous” the question is.
In the video below, Peekskill resident Edward Freed, wearing a Peekskill NAACP shirt, said the following:
“Hello. My name is Edward Freed, I’m a proud member of the Peekskill branch of the NAACP and I’m also here to speak in support of the issues raised by the Peekskill Area Pastors Association. I’d like to introduce a concept into tonight’s discussion that I haven’t heard yet this evening, and that’s the concept of structural racism. My fear is that many people think of the word racism and react, “That is not me.’ Instead, I would like to suggest that we all take responsibility for the advancements that still need to be made by simply supporting the status quo. Structural racism is there as a result of good people thinking that things will take care of themselves. And so, what I’m suggesting today is that there is a responsibility in all respects to elected officials of this town…”
A few minutes after Freed spoke, Peekskill resident Steven Dillard, also wearing a Peekskill NAACP shirt, said the following, which can be viewed in the video below:
“The city does not look for ways of being racist or discriminating, but to be racist or discriminating you don’t necessarily have to go out and do extra moves when the structure is already there. (Applause) What we can do now is make moves to reverse that and we have seen many of the ways that people here have tools which Peekskill can use. So, I am excited for Peekskill, right here at this table, for you to now make moves to make it so that that there isn’t any racist things going on here. Are there? Of course there are, and we know there are. We know that people of color are not getting the jobs, not getting paid for jobs in which they have done here in Peekskill, so we want to make sure that these things are not continuing to be done and we want to make sure that Peekskill is a better place…”
Peekskill NAACP President Martin McDonald was actually the first to bring up the subject at the meeting. By clicking HERE and fast forwarding to the 46:00 mark, you will hear Martin say the following:
“…Once you raise the question of race, you have to go one step further. And you have to have the conversation about racism, not racist, but racism—the systematic control. The system of racism that has kept people from access to certain jobs, housing, loans and educational opportunities or more. The great City of Peekskill is not immune from systemic racism. Just last month, in a meeting with Mr. Leins, I was informed that the City of Peekskill just recently hired its very first African American to the Peekskill Fire Department. Now, while I say congrats to that individual, and I do have to acknowledge the milestone that it represents, I have to say, what took so long?
I know a little bit about Coleman Smith, who fought courageously to become the first black volunteer firefighter in 1966, but here we are in 2017 and I’m shocked and outraged that that is the case. That is a reality, and we have to ask, what is going on? We have a great mission in the NAACP and we will not run from it even though it may make people feel uncomfortable…There is an issue and we can’t just ignore it and pretend that it doesn’t exist.”
It is worth noting that, according to Dictionary.com, the definition of racist is as follows:
And, the definition of racism is as follows:
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
From what was said at the May 8 Common Council meeting by members of the Peekskill NAACP, it is clear that the question asked at last week’s forum was anything but “erroneous.” What is sad about this entire episode is that by submitting the question for use in the candidate forum, we were giving a platform to the NAACP’s point of view, which, one would assume, would be of interest to nearly everyone in the city. Instead, for some reason, they took it as an attack.