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Public comment focuses on calls for solutions to Confederate statue vandalism at City Council meeting

SALISBURY — Shadows of the resolution of reconciliation addressing the 1906 lynchings and the weekend vandalism of the Confederate memorial Fame took the stage during the public-comment period at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The resolution was briefly addressed as Mayor Al Heggins said it would be handed to the Actions in Faith and Justice Committee to draft a resolution. Council members agreed at their Aug. 7 meeting that if they couldn’t come to a consensus, they would refer the issue to the committee.

“We felt like that was the best move at the time, so we thank you for the work you’re about to embark upon and we look forward to what you will bring back to us,” Heggins said.

Several residents voiced concerns about comments made by council members during the discussion of the resolution at the Aug. 7 meeting, as well as the Ku Klux Klan fliers that were distributed in Salisbury last week and the vandalism of Fame, a winged muse holding a fallen Confederate soldier on Innes Street.

“We’re having stupid, stupid fights that make us look ridiculous how we can keep people from voting, forcing prayer on people before meetings, fighting for Confederate statues to stay up, or not doing anything to help remove them when clearly, clearly it’s a problem in the city, and it’s not going to get better,” John Leach said. “I don’t know if anyone else in here thinks all of a sudden it’s going to stop offending people or people are going to stop doing something about it, but we have honestly reached a turning point in this cycle in our country where it’s not going to go away.

“Y’all just can’t hide from it,” Leach continued. “It’s just going to get worse. It’s not going to be paint next time. It’s not going to be KKK fliers.”

Olen Brunner said people are becoming anxious and that the community and council need to be careful how they respond to the vandalism of Fame.

“Fame is just that type of match that will have us at each other’s throats,” Brunner said.

Tenkomenin Crowder commended the mayor for remaining peaceful during the last two weeks.

“It’s too much of playing politics going on right now and no one discussing the truth or trying to defuse something other than the mayor,” Crowder said. “I’ve seen the mayor come to the Confederate statue peacefully, not trying to cause any trouble.”

Heggins spoke at the end of the meeting and addressed some of the public comments.

“It’s a very interesting time we live in, and I think we’re living in some times many of us who are a little bit older thought they would never see and some that are a little bit older than some of us say they thought they would never see it again,” Heggins said. “I think that as we move forward in our convening … that we have to be very mindful about other people’s experiences. That we have to pay attention to what other people experience and listen to their stories and do the best that we can not to become defensive to really try to take a moment and walk in another person’s truth and understand another person’s story and inherited story.”

During the public-comment period, Renee MacNutt referred to the Women for Community Justice press conference on Monday at which the group called for respect and civility among council members. 

“You don’t have to like each other,” MacNutt said. “You don’t have to agree with each other. It’s not what we’re talking about. It’s about honoring the person that’s each of you.”

AJ Alexander recommended that council members attend cultural training.

Salisbury Indivisible spokeswoman Emily Ford offered as a solution moving the Confederate statue to a private museum or cemetery.

Mayor Pro Tem David Post commended the plan to relocate Fame.

“It’s a sore point for the city,” Post said. “The strategies were well thought out.”

Post said he is reading “A Game Called Salisbury,” which addresses the 1906 lynchings. He recommended it to the public.

Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield said she is ready to take action to find a solution on Fame.

“We just need to make sure as a community that there’s no room for hate in the city of Salisbury,” Sheffield said. “I’ve been pretty clear about that since 2014 about how I feel about that. I think there is a solution I can find especially talking about the statue. I would encourage us, Lane (Bailey, the city manager), as a city how can we move forward? What is the olive branch? I will find a solution for this before we do become news we don’t want to be.”

Other business:

• After talks about an ordinance for a West Ritchie Road property presented by Preston Mitchell and applicant Nelson Bradshaw, it was passed 4-1 with a no from the mayor. Heggins cited a concern raised by AJ Alexander about neighbors not being notified about the request for rezoning from rural residential to highway business.

• The council unanimously agreed to hold a special session to discuss suggested rules of procedure.

• A financial bid for Fire Station No. 6 was approved. The council also received a report on the SAFER Grant award for the fire department to hire nine additional firefighters.

• The council approved two members to fill vacancies on the Rowan Tourism Development Authority board and approved three members for the Human Relations Council.

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