BY KARISSA MILLER
During the week when Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is celebrated and the first woman of color was sworn in as vice president of the United States, several Iredell County residents expressed their concerns to county commissioners about persistent racism and a lack of unity.
Residents again raised questions about the continuing presence of the Confederate war memorial on county property and shared their views about relations with local law enforcement and the recent attacks on the U.S. Capitol by domestic terrorists.
The presence of the Confederate memorial, the focal point of the conversation during the public comments segment of Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, continues to outrage some citizens.
“Yesterday we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Martin Luther King Committee put together a marvelous program,” said Todd Scott, president of the Statesville Branch NAACP. “That program helped to renew our hope and desire to continue civil and social justice.”
Everyone can acknowledge racial inequities and disparities exist, Scott said, and everyone should be held accountable for their actions and non-actions.
Scott renewed his call for the removal of the Confederate war memorial.
“We asked last year and you said wait until after the election. Well, the election is over,” Scott said. “We want it on record if you choose not to vote with the Statesville NAACP Branch.”
“We will move forward with our plans to increase our efforts and support to have it removed,” he added.
Scott emphasized that it’s important to reflect on recent events, which have shown “division, tribalism, fragility of hope that exists in this country,” he explained.
“Do you want us to come together or not?” he asked. “Are you the county commissioners for just the Republican Party or for all citizens?”
The previous board was “very partisan,” Scott said, addressing the newest commissioners Scottie Brown and Melissa Neader.
On January 6, 2021, it was clear from watching the attack in Washington that that there are two Americas, “one for blacks and one for whites,” he added.
“We’ve been trying to tell America for 400 years that racism still exists. We saw terrorists attack our capital,” Scott said.
He urged commissioners to take a stand on the Confederate statue. It’s important “to put our differences aside and move the Confederate statue,” he said. “Let’s be one of the cities of this era squashing racism.”
Another speaker, Elowehi Onole, criticized the county for prohibiting protests in front of the war memorial in accordance with the county’s public property ordinance.
Onole said that pro-Trump supporters in Statesville have been treated differently by law enforcement during heated demonstrations and verbal attacks between the Black Lives Matter supporters.
“As a result of your own negligence, Statesville’s homegrown terrorists were there in D.C. trying to overthrow democracy. We warned you months ago about their plans to attack the government,” Onole said.
“Imagine how many lives could be saved at the capital if they would have arrested the terrorists instead of us being terrorized,” she said. “The time to begin dismantling this enormous and historic lie is now,” she added.
Commissioner Gene Houpe responded to the speakers following the public comments.
“With all due respect, I believe I speak on behalf of all of the board, we all condemn what we saw on January 6 in Washington. We don’t condone violence of any sort by anybody,” Houpe said.
Houpe mentioned that some of the Black Lives Matter protests nationwide this summer also got out of hand.
“Over the months, sitting on this board for years, I have not heard anybody that spoke tonight condemn the behaviors of the Black Lives Matter or Antifa — the assault, the protestors, that tore up businesses, assaulted innocent people, assaulted police officers and wanted to defund police,” he said. “We want to condemn any of that behavior.”
Houpe ended the meeting with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. in honor of the recent holiday.
“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools,” he said.
Also, at the meeting, the board:
♦ Approved a conceptual plan for improvements to the entrance of the Iredell County Solid Waste Facility on Twin Oaks Road. These improvements will help with the flow of traffic by widening roads in the future.
♦ Approved a request from Iredell-Statesville Schools for approval for Iredell County to make application to the Local Government Commission to issue a loan not to exceed $8.86 million for a LED lighting, bipolar ionization and energy efficiency project systemwide.
♦ Approved a request from the Solid Waste Department for approval of a budget transfer for purchasing two new road tractors.