My turn, Susan Lee: Public safety not effectively addressed by delaying response

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 4, 2020

By Susan Lee

I respond in appreciation to those who spoke regarding “Fame” at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, to Mayor Pro Tem Heggins for advising City Council to not move past those concerns and to Councilwoman Sheffield for speaking clearly and directly about why she is in favor of moving the statue.

Appropriately, Councilman David Post’s comments addressed not only strong legal standing for moving the statue, but also moral issues of concern. Parallels can be drawn between state-sanctioned murders of Jews in Nazi Germany and state sanctioned oppression, discrimination and murder that are delivered upon African-Americans and people of color to this very day in the United States. Nazi emblems such as the swastika have been banned in Germany. There and in other countries they have been replaced with Confederate flags! This coded symbol for intolerance and racial terror has gained global status.

Worldwide recognition of Confederate symbols provides context for noting Councilman Brian Miller’s characterization of “Fame” as a “thing,” and thus, meaningless. It can be maintained that Mr. Miller’s racial privilege and social advantage allow him to regard symbols of oppression, hatred and racial terror as meaningless.  He is afforded the luxury of neutrality on these matters because they do not interfere with his sense of dignity, safety and well-being. However, one cannot view Fame’s central location in Salisbury as meaningless. Otherwise, why would some who “defend” it object to placing it safely in a museum? Why must concerns regarding the statue rise to the level of public danger to be legally moved from its place of honor?

Matters of public safety are not effectively addressed by mincing words or delaying responses. After declaring a state of emergency and enforcing a curfew, why does Mayor Alexander call for further discussion of public safety? The 2019 community meeting regarding “Fame” provided citizens ample notice and opportunity to express their opinions. It was clearly recognized then, as now, that the statue can be moved in the interest of public safety. This was before gunshots were fired, before tear gas was used on our citizens, but not before Charlottesville and locally distributed racial threats that were later recorded in the state’s hate crime database. 

Equally, matters of moral discernment are not effectively addressed by debate or in weighing public opinion. Preferences of the most influential or even the majority of voices should not override what is moral, decent and right. This happened in Nazi Germany. 

It also happened in Salisbury in 1906, when three Black men were lynched as thousands of approving people, including elected officials, looked on. And many were silent. But our nation doesn’t need to turn to history. For examples of such horrors we can turn to the daily news. Still many are silent.

Silence about immoral actions is tantamount to complicity.  Why would Mr. Post and Mr. Miller suggest that people speaking out against hatred and in favor of public safety were doing so as a clandestine, orchestrated plot?  Shots were fired! A state of emergency has been declared! What kind of city would Salisbury be if concerned citizens didn’t step up and speak out? 

Finally, what led council members to refer to moving the statue in the “dark of night” following “secret meetings”? Or that moving it would be unlawful? There is legal provision for local determination of public safety as a basis for moving the statue.

The time has come to respect the concerns of all Salisbury’s citizens. Put “Fame” in a museum where those concerned can be assured of its safety. And at least in this regard, our citizens can be better assured of theirs.

Susan Lee lives in Salisbury.