Grantville City Council divided over issue of race

by W. Winston Skinner

“I’ve been black a long time,” Grantville Council Member Johnny Cooks said. “I’m used to this.”

Fifty years after the passage of key Civil Rights legislation, race still plays a role in many aspects of political life in Grantville. Cooks, one of two black members of the Grantville City Council, talked about racial issues in a blunt series of comments following Monday’s council meeting.

Council Member Barham Lundy, the other black member of the council, expanded on some of Cooks’ remarks in a Tuesday interview.

The south Coweta town often seems permanently fractured – with ever changing factions fighting each other over issues that are often puzzling to outsiders and some residents. Efforts to establish a youth skate park and a splash park in the town several months ago quickly took on a competitive flavor.

In Jim Crow days, there was a swimming pool for whites on Post Street and one for blacks on Griffin Street. Both pools are long gone. The splash park, which has been completed and is being enjoyed on hot summer days by people of all races, was built on the site of the former white pool.

The skate park, pushed back into limbo earlier this year after new council members took office, was proposed for the Griffin Street Park where the former pool for the black community was in years past.

The splash park was pushed by the largely white Downtown Development Authority, while the skate park had the endorsement of the city’s Recreation Advisory Board, which has had mostly black membership.

While the parks issues have a subtle racial subtext, more recent events have had a more public racial element.

Police Chief Doug Jordan resigned recently – following revelations about texts that included the word “nigger.” Last fall, when Jordan was suspended after visiting Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, there was much discussion about getting permission from the city manager, following protocol and wearing his Grantville uniform for photographs.

No one at a council meeting said out loud that Arpaio, hailed as a “law and order” sheriff by admirers, has been the subject of a lawsuit that found he and his department violated people’s civil rights by racially profiling Latinos. A federal judge has since ordered the appointment of an independent monitor to ensure Arpaio stops racial profiling, and Maricopa County settled out of court for more than $7 million in suits that accused Arpaio of abuse of power.

Lundy talked about why procedural issues, rather than why black people might not want their local police department to be patterned on the Arpaio plan, were emphasized after Jordan visited the Arizona lawman. Lundy said black political officials often are reluctant to bring up racial problems – even when they clearly see them – because they want to avoid being seen as viewing everything through a racial lens.

Lundy also said that when he first ran for council seven years ago, some Grantvillians promised to support him – as long as he did not talk about race. He abided by that for a while.

“Sometimes you’ve got to say something about things that you don’t think are right,” Lundy said. “Some things you just can’t take.”

On Monday, Cooks said he had “some pretty harsh comments” about “our old employees and our new employees … about a few bad apples.”

Clearly referring to Jordan’s departure, Cooks, remarked, “No one is accusing an entire city or department, but what happens when you get a bad apple? It makes a bad pie.”

Cooks and Lundy also addressed code words, used by politicians that often have a racial context below the surface.

Both said terms like “a drug war” mean different things to white and black audiences. “Black men like me know it is a code word for let loose on the black males,” Cooks said.

“That tells black men, ‘you better get in the house – you better stay off the streets,’” Lundy said.

He said young blacks in Grantville got the message when Jordan came back from visiting Arpaio. In the evening, even now, “you won’t see any black kids on the street” in Grantville, Lundy said.

Cooks said records of search and seizure – 90 percent of them from black males – have been reported in some jurisdictions when such “drug wars” are undertaken. Most of those stopped or pulled over have broken no law, he said.

Cooks ticked off a list of issues that he says have impacted the black community in Grantville – disproportionate traffic stops of black drivers, police officers “parking in black men’s business lots, … “docking pay of black officers” and “false accusations of incompetence” to force black staff to resign.

He recalled a council meeting when there were six police officers present. One of them, Cooks noted, stood next to Lundy.

“Yes, this is discrimination. I feel like the German Nazis have taken over. Yes, we feel that way. Only those who have not been discriminated against cannot understand,” Cooks said.

“I don’t agree with what Mr. Cooks just said one bit,” said Councilman David Riley, who is white.

“I agree with Councilman Cooks 100 percent,” Lundy said. “We’ve got some problems that we’ve got to take care of.” Those problems, he added, will not be solved overnight.

On Monday, Tim Taylor of the Metro Atlanta Human Trafficking Task Force spoke to the council. He offered training to the police department and citizens about how to spot sexual trafficking.

At one point he made reference to watching for young people walking down the road at night. Cooks took exception to that generality.

“Our citizens need to be aware that every child walking at night is not being trafficked,” he said, nor are they involved in criminal activity. “I’m a big advocate of civil liberties.”

He applauded Taylor for his work but said people can “take the concerns and the fear that you have – and which are justified” and take actions in which “a lot of civil liberties are trampled upon.”

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