Over the past few months, many of you have come to know me for my activism on removing the Confederate Monument from our Courthouse lawn. I see it as a symbol that holds our community back from its shared destiny. It is not a unifying voice for this town. It does not tell an accurate enough story of our history or the story of that particular celebrated moment. It was placed, like the nation it celebrates, in front of us to rebel against racial progress and we should not celebrate any of that.
But my getting vocal this year didn’t start there. Back in January, a group of visionary pastors and I wrote about what we perceived to be a failure in leadership of our County Judge and commissioners, when they defiantly declared Walker County a Gun Sanctuary. In the Jim Crow Era and in the Antebellum South, when states decided they didn’t like whom federal laws were seeking to protect, they employed “nullification.” It meant they would not follow the law. That’s what our county just did: rebelled against our national government.
Last week, I spoke at Commissioners Court to address Commissioners (Ronnie) White and (Danny) Kuykendahl for previous comments. White had inaccurately described Black Lives Matter and I urged him to remember the members he knows, who have in the past supported him. Kuykendahl had dressed down a peaceful protestor for his use of language, when the young man had apologized in advance for the language used against him on courthouse grounds. I called out the commissioner for lacking the ethics to condemn the treatment a resident received, but damning him for not regarding the commissioners’ delicate sensibilities.
As we departed, Kuykendahl threateningly jokes with White that I don’t want to speak to him, “you bet your sweet ass!” Perhaps the commissioner owes the voters an explanation for his hypocrisy and apologize for his immature display of contempt of the court and for a voter in his precinct? And I still want that call!
But, local failures abound.
Over at the City, city manager Aron Kulhavy endangered the lives of countless Black citizens, with a post he instructed the city secretary to post on official city social media. That post, shared thousands of times, erroneously left the impression that discredited threats, originating from white supremacists from outside the County, were given tacit endorsement by its poor wording.
Indeed, Black visitors to the statue reported being intimidated by a large crowd of unmasked white men, with semi-automatic weapons, Confederate flags and a large Trump 2020 banner proudly displayed in front of Sam Houston. Kulhavy waits, even though multiple requests to take down the post from citizens and city councilpersons were ignored, 72 hours to remove the aforementioned lie. Kulhavy waited a week and a half to issue a lackluster apology to a community looking for sincerity from its leaders.
But the failures keep coming.
Four months ago, I warned members of the county commissioners court and in municipal leadership of the following COVID-19 concerns:
• With 15,000 inmates surrounding our community (not counting those incarcerated in our county jails), had anyone requested from the state of Texas and TDCJ a mitigation strategy for preventing the virus from leaping into the general population, as Huntsville is a unique situation in Texas? No response. COVID went sweeping through both the prisons and the city.
• I asked them about compassionate release of the many offenders under city and county care, as a supermajority are only there because they can’t afford bail before trial? Law and order was the reply. I countered with, why would the county want to hold offenders in confined areas and be responsible for paying for their care if they get sick? No response.
• I suggested forming a regional task force, including elected officials, business leaders, public health experts and academics to brainstorm proactively about what our needs would be, if this pandemic lasted more than a couple weeks. The mayor and city manager, along with the commissioners court members contacted, said they didn’t need one. That was until two weeks ago, when the state gave us a grant that they have to figure out how to spend.
• I begged them to look into creating a community fund to help our citizens with predictable expenses. I stated that we don’t have an indigent infrastructure for anything like this. They preferred to, “hope and pray things didn’t get that bad.” They did.
• I asked them repeatedly for the number of ventilators at the hospital. After three weeks I got the information from another pastor, who had to dig for the information herself, because no one in government was being proactive or forthcoming.
There’s more, but I’m not writing for the Atlantic. Our leaders are failing this great community. Don’t believe them when they say, “no one could have predicted this.” That’s wrong.
Don’t get hoodwinked when they keep delaying votes and apologies on subjects that aren’t really as controversial as they make them out to be. They are being beholden to a narrow band of merry folks in this community that don’t want our government to look like our community. They don’t concern themselves with the labels and lies they put on their neighbors, that feel uncomfortable with how quickly things are changing.
Judge Pierce asked me, “Why now?”
Because, God has given us the spirit of courage to press this community, our community, to be better and to be whole. Our future together can not wait on local leaders to decide to do the obviously right and decent things. That means we must start to organize now to hold bad leadership accountable and ultimately, if they refuse to hear citizens petitioning their government for reasonable treatment, then we must vote them out roundly this November.
Rep. John Lewis, who died last week, spoke of his mission of stirring “good trouble.” Our own Wendell Baker said, “we must be agitators, or we’ll never get the dirt out!” I say, “It’s past time to clean the house.”