• Jeffrey Zalles

This Commissioner Must Resign

First letter sent published in local newspapers:

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, our nation is beginning to come to terms with the systemic disparities that have affected the black community for far too long. As Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals begin the processes of healing, it is comforting to know that most of our leaders recognize the need for change.

Did I say most?

Sadly, there are a few elected officials who refuse to acknowledge that any change is needed; that systemic racism even exists. One elected official has gone so far as to ridicule the events of the past weeks in a sarcastic Facebook post. Would I call this official a racist? I will let you decide.

Would a racist accuse those sympathetic to protesters of advocating that “all whites should give their homes and wealth to a black family?”

Would a racist write that in response to the tragedy of George Floyd’s death, African Americans, who have demonstrated peacefully across the nation “loot and riot causing hundreds of millions in damage?” That they “demand $12 trillion in reparations?”

Would a racist spread the false and incendiary rumor that the NFL will “fly BLM flag under the American flag?”

Would you call someone a racist whose Facebook friends respond to his post with comments like “they are effing INSANE!!! I am sooooo proud to be white!!” or “I think they should run through all the footage, round up as many rioters and looters as they can and there’s your free labor?”

We elect politicians to represent all citizens. We don’t elect politicians to divide us. Those who do have no business in government and should resign. And whether or not you call this particular politician a racist, you can refer to him as Mike Forte, Brunswick County Commissioner.

Second letter distributed to all NC newspapers:

We, the people of the Southeast United States, have been stereotyped. Thanks to decades of images featuring Confederate flag-waiving citizens, water cannons pointed at black demonstrators, and public figures like George Wallace and Bull Connor spouting racial hatred, it’s no mystery as to why most of the nation and the world look down upon the American South, seeing us as a region filled with white racists and oppressed people of color.

On June 10, that world view was once again validated when a bigoted rant appeared on the Facebook page of Brunswick County Commissioner Mike Forte. The public outcry has been swift and fierce. A petition demanding the commissioner’s resignation was signed by over 1,700 people in a matter of days. Letters and editorials from angry citizens appeared on opinion pages in every regional newspaper.

One thing, however, has been missing. Not a single Brunswick County commissioner has issued a statement publicly condemning Mr. Forte. There is an expression that we hear often in the Trump era: Silence equals consent. Only two possible explanations exist for this silence. The first is that these public officials agree with Mr. Forte’s Facebook rant and that their failure to speak out represents a tacit endorsement of its content. The second explanation is that they are too frightened to make their opinions public. There is no third explanation.

North Carolina officials were not elected to represent white citizens. They were elected to represent all citizens. If they are too bigoted or cowardly to stand up and condemn racism, they have no business serving in any public capacity. They have betrayed our constitution and those they swore an oath to protect.