Here’s a cute picture of a tiny opossum Scuppers brought me as a gift (don’t worry, the opossum was safely returned to nature.)
You’re going to need all that cuteness to remind you sometimes good things happen and make you smile. Because, quite honestly, this post will upset you. It should upset you.
Sometimes it’s harder to stay silent than I would like. This is one of those times.
Gulfport has a crime watch group. It is not, I should note, sanctioned by the police in any way, something Gulfport Police Chief Rob Vincent has gone out of his way to stress to the media. However, they use city facilities rent free (they meet in a facility for which the city typically charges rental fees), and on-duty police officers attend the meetings and speak and answer questions. In addition, their Facebook group has a shot of the entire Gulfport Police Department as its cover photo.
Before you read any further, please hear this: The Gulfport, Florida police department consists of good and kind men and women, and in 13 years of working with them, both professionally as a journalist and personally as a resident, I’ve never found a shred of anything to suggest we have an institutional problem with race relations in our departments. Never. Our officers are not part of this problem.
This post appeared on the Crime Watch Facebook group last week. Wednesday, I believe.
Sundown signs, for those of you who neither enrolled in Southern History college courses nor grew up in a town that had, as we now call it, “racial issues”, warned black people that if they dared set foot in that town after the sun set, they’d… well, quite honestly, they’d be lynched. Except they didn’t say “black” if they mentioned black people. They used another word, which I will not post here.
I left this crime watch group several months back. I grew tired of hearing people complain about “those kids” from Childs Park (which means black kids, because apparently Gulfport has no black people, which comes as a huge shock to many of my neighbors who – spoiler alert – happen to be black.) I got so tired of being angry at the page admins for allowing this and citing “free speech” which (another spoiler alert) isn’t what that means at all, Mr. Tim Spencer* (Tim Spencer runs the Facebook page and, as far as I can tell, the physical group).
But staying silent isn’t working. These people aren’t 87-year-old grandfathers who might spew a racial belief from their childhood but not fully understand it. They know what they’re saying. They’re the new breed of racist. They’re the most dangerous kind, more dangerous than the Aryan Nation or people who walk around with swastikas inked on their arm, because unless they show their ass, we don’t know. They’re fostering hate and allowing hate speech and not giving a rat’s red ass about how the black people who read that post feel, not just about those people, but Gulfport and everyone who lives and loves here.
To my knowledge, the city seemed somehow unaware of this post until this weekend. A resident contacted the council, police chief, and city manager, and Ward Two councilperson Christine Brown contacted the city manager (by the terms of Gulfport’s charter, elected officials cannot talk to anyone but charter staff – the city manager, attorney and clerk – about city matters). I have high hopes the city will take appropriate action, although I’m uncertain what they can do.
As for you, you can email the city council, police chief and city manager and ask them to stop allowing this group to use city facilities for free. Ask them to stop providing on-the-clock officers to this group. Remind them Gulfport has a history of tolerance, not just that dark spot that every southern town seems to have. Tell them we want our past to stay past. You can email them all at once at this link.
Oh, yeah… one more thing: Mr. Dino Della Noce owns South Pinellas Bicycles, where El Cap and I bring our bikes for repair. He does excellent work. Unfortunately, now that I know he’s a crazy fucking racist, we need a new bike shop. I encourage no violence (of course) but if you patronize South Pinellas Bicycles, STOP. And tell everyone you know this is a dangerous man who wants to set our lovely town back in time 60 years.
Hate has no place in my town.
*”Free speech” means the government can’t throw you in jail for expressing an opinion, but even that has exceptions. The First Amendment to the US Constitution says:
- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The first amendment refers to government only. Free speech does not mean any private venue must allow you to say what you want. It doesn’t mean you can incite violent acts, ever. It means when someone spews hate speech online, the page manager can delete it. In fact, if you don’t, I believe you can get sued.