A few of you have emailed me about yesterday’s MLK Day event downtown. A moment intended to celebrate a great person’s life was spoiled by some hecklers repeating (loudly) their complaints about the Fire Department. It was quite a contrast to the great reception I received at another event yesterday which did not receive news coverage: an address to members of a national African American church meeting in St. Louis, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC).
Ever since Chief George retired, I have been talking and listening to people, both African American and white, about the months of discussions, negotiations, and (ultimately) impasse that led up to his demotion; and, more importantly, about how we can move our City forward and build on our great progress.
I am very encouraged by what I am hearing. Certainly, some people initially disagreed with or were confused by what happened. Some still are. But, a majority of people in St. Louis, including many who continue to disagree with me about Chief George, want the City to advance a common agenda. They want more economic opportunities, safer neighborhoods, and better schools for all residents. And they want one St. Louis Fire Department - not one African American fire department and one white fire department.
It is way too easy these days to call someone with whom you disagree a racist. Not every disagreement over policy, even if it involves people of different races, is racial. But, we also cannot ignore racial disparities where they exist.
There are two things I am not going to do: I am not going to encourage counter-protests because we need to unite, not further divide. And, I am not going to choose the events I attend based on whether or not there are going to be some shouters present. I am mayor of the whole City.
Mayors accumulate friends and enemies. It’s a tough job, and I think I am pretty good at it. Yesterday, the detractors were on TV.