This week’s regular City Council meeting included local residents whose views showed quite a division about a proposed Black Lives Matter painting on the rooftop of an old railroad track-side loading dock on the northeast side of downtown.
From the get-go of the public input phase of Monday’s council meeting, the feelings became quite clear, with Bob Norman, a former educator and a retired businessman, the first to step up to the speaker’s podium.
“I think as a community we would be better off promoting unity rather than division,” Norman said. “I know we hear that phrase an awful lot, but we don’t seem to get the unity in step with what we need to be doing.”
Norman noted the Confederate monument having been removed from just south of the U.S. 64 interchange with Benvenue Road because the statue offended some people.
“I had no problem with that, but to me, it seems like to put a mural up with the Black Lives Matter movement going on, we’re simply going to add division because undoubtedly — and as selfish as it may be — undoubtedly it is going to cause a division again. Some people are going to be offended by it,” Norman said.
Norman, noting the rail line being used by Amtrak, said he believes this would be a perfect opportunity for residents and especially the council to have something there that would promote Rocky Mount as a city of unity.
Norman said if one does not believe all lives matter, then ask the mother of the 5-year-old boy in Wilson who was fatally shot in the head on Sunday.
People addressing the council are supposed to be limited to three minutes each, and Mayor Sandy Roberson told Norman his time was up. Norman told Roberson he had let a speaker at a previous council meeting speak beyond the time limit.
“I’m asking if you would honor the three minutes — and I started the clock a little late, actually,” Roberson told Norman.
Before Norman departed the meeting room, he said he believed Councilman Andre Knight and City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney owed resident Robert Carr an apology. As Norman continued speaking, Roberson began using his gavel, told Norman, “Please, sir,” and Norman left.
Norman was referring to the June 8 council meeting. Carr, after addressing the council during that meeting, engaged in what appeared to be both a saluting and a farewell type of gesture.
After Carr spoke, Knight told Roberson he believed Carr pretty much threatened Small-Toney with the gesture. During the July 13 council meeting, Small-Toney maintained she believed Carr’s gesture was not one of salutation or respect to her, but was quite the opposite.
The next speaker during Monday’s council meeting, Tricia Thompson, stated opposition to a council resolution on June 8 supporting Black Lives Matter.
Thompson stated a belief that Black Lives Matter is a self-declared Marxist organization and that endorsing a Marxist organization is falling short of supporting the Constitution the council members swore to uphold.
“It is racist to support Black Lives Matter as it only addresses one race exclusively,” Thompson said. “There’s only one way to get back on track — and that is to take race out of the way we describe everything.
“My government is for all of Rocky Mount and not just one race,” Thompson said.
Thompson also stated a belief in the Constitution being the dominant ideology, not the one Black Lives Matter is promoting.
The next speaker was Nehemiah Smith, who is a frequent speaker at council meetings.
Smith said he wanted to speak about those who say, “All lives matter.”
Smith called the part of the Declaration of Independence about the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness “hypocritical at best” because this was only independence for whites.
Smith said he believed the Constitution, which he called “the second, more hypocritical document,” should have said, “We, the white people” because Blacks were considered three-fifths of a person and chattel and slaves.
“So when we say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and white folk hit us with ‘All lives matter,’ we want so desperately to ask, ‘Since when? Where, pray tell, is that a reality?’” Smith said.
During his remarks, Smith also blasted those who say they are not responsible for what their ancestors did and also noted that Blacks have been brutalized for more than four centuries.
“And when I ask you to paint 16 letters, three words, two spaces, an adjective, collective noun and a verb in third-person present tense, you get your underwear in a bunch and start talking about cost,” Smith said.
Samuel Battle, who frequently addresses the council, spoke next.
Battle said, “All lives matter to me” and was quick to note he has a son who is biracial and also was quick to note many children are biracial.
“So you can’t say Black lives matter all the time,” Battle said.
Battle said that all he is trying to do is get Rocky Mount back in order and to talk to those who are in the streets.
“Come out two o’clock, one o’clock in the morning when it’s really alive,” Battle said. “I don’t see none of you at one, two o’clock in the morning when the kids are out.
“All these leaders and all these organizations, come on out,” Battle said. “I’ll take you out there. There ain’t nothing going to happen to you. Hear what these kids are talking about, two o’clock and one o’clock in the morning.”
Battle also said he believes nothing is being done about the numerous unsolved murders in the area and the numerous homicides last year in Rocky Mount.
Bronson Williams spoke next.
Williams is a frequent speaker at council meetings and has twice run for mayor. Williams expressed support for the proposed mural.
“Black Lives Matter in my opinion was not nor is it an us-versus-them, but rather the hope to create a more united states of America,” Williams said. “I believe that this institution should, at its most deliberate speed, create a mural that makes a bold statement that Black lives matter, too.”
Williams also said, “I want that young Black boy or girl to know that their life has value.”
Williams later in his remarks said, “For my non-Black friends, this is not to devalue your worth or your value, but rather to bring equity across the broad and bold America that we live in.”