But our wait has ended.
As a citywide petition — organized by the local NAACP affiliate — builds steam in an effort to force the 1st District councilman into resigning, it is becoming apparent a stalemate is brewing. From all accounts, McKenzie refuses to go beyond what he has already said; that is, a generic apology if he has offended anyone by anything he might, or might not, have said.
NAACP members are understandably upset. Holding firm to written statements by two Bradley County Sheriff’s Office deputies that McKenzie has disparaged the black race in private conversations by use of inflammatory racial slurs, the NAACP is demanding that the councilman voluntarily leave office.
Because McKenzie is sticking to his prior blanket statement — without further comment, publicly or privately — and is choosing to remain in office, local NAACP leaders have organized a petition seeking McKenzie’s ouster. Although it is aimed at neighborhoods within McKenzie’s district, the petition is also circulating in other districts as a means to build community support and to send a message of disapproval to three other councilmen who voted against earlier motions by 2nd District Councilman Bill Estes to censure McKenzie, and to ask for his resignation.
Those supporting Estes’s motions for censure and resignation were Vice Mayor Avery Johnson and Councilman Richard Banks. Those opposing the motion were Councilmen Dale Hughes, David May and George Poe. The proposal died in a 3-3 gridlock.
Each man voted his conscience. All explained their reasoning.
Since the Feb. 25 Council votes, much has been said publicly but without resolution. The NAACP petition continues to grow and the organization’s leaders have vowed to push ahead until McKenzie steps down. Volunteers representing the community- and people-minded group are canvassing the city’s districts each Saturday, and they pledge to maintain a presence in future Council meetings.
To borrow upon a familiar adage, this people-divisive issue is rapidly deteriorating into an “irresistable force” butting heads with an “immovable object.”
In the infancy of this volatile debate, at least one NAACP representative acknowledged the issue might have gone away had McKenzie simply admitted or denied his alleged transgression, and delivered a genuine apology, if guilty. Essentially, the councilman did neither.
Obviously, McKenzie is embarrassed, and is blaming the whole sordid affair on “politics” and the coming Bradley County sheriff’s election in 2014.
Rightfully, the NAACP is not satisfied with his response and is appropriately calling the alleged remarks an afront to the human race and not just the black race.
Frankly, we don’t know with certainty if McKenzie used the slurs. Two deputies say he did, and have filed their complaints in a written statement to Sgt. James Bradford. The information was then leaked to the news media through an apparently fraudulent email credited to the “Southeast NAACP.” This wreaks of the anti-sheriff’s office “politics” suspicion aired by McKenzie.
But it doesn’t answer the question. Did McKenzie voice the slurs or not?
These allegations are serious. Any who simply look the other way are doing a grave disservice to our community. Yet, what is the solution?
It is this: Open communication and it must be done face-to-face.
Charlie McKenzie, the immovable object, must meet face-to-face with NAACP leaders, the irresistable force, and others who have been offended. Some will claim this already has been done in a 20-minute, closed-door session following the first City Council session on Feb. 11 when the charges were first aired. The meeting then included NAACP President Lawrence Armstrong, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church Senior Pastor Edward Robinson and McKenzie.
We are told in that meeting McKenzie stuck to the tone of his prepared statement read only a short time earlier in the Council chambers. However well intended, this closed-door meeting was held under extreme duress. Emotions were still running high.
We say try it again.
Why? Because it is worth the effort. In keeping with Armstrong’s sentiments, these are times that try not only the black race, but the human race.
Those driving the petition are justified and well within their rights. Those signing the petition are standing up for personal convictions. Those opposing the petition likely believe McKenzie has been wronged by political opponents who would instigate ill-will among voters even at such a volatile and inhumane price.
Our plea is simple and we make it to Mayor Rowland and McKenzie, representing the Council; to Rev. Robinson and to Rev. Teresa Oglesby, pastor of Price Memorial A.M.E. Church, representing the clergy; to Armstrong, representing the NAACP; and to other responsible parties — black, white or other — at the choosing of the aforementioned group.
Meet again. Talk it out.
Do it behind closed doors. Do it outside the presence of the news media, including this newspaper. Do it wherever. Do it however. But do it now.
Work out your differences and issue a public statement.
Do it together. Do it with conviction. Do it for this community.
In spite of the perceptions by some, we have gone far beyond anything black and white. We have entered a new realm, that which defines humanity.
It is the only way.