‘They do white stuff.’; 3rd EIB Committee Meeting Sparks Clashes Over Rhetoric As Members Discuss Fundamental Understanding | News
ST. ALBANS CITY — When asked to share his pronouns, Keith Longmore — dressed in a “1776 Forever Free” shirt — made it clear where he stood during his first appearance on the Membership, Equity and of inclusion of the city of St. Albans.
“I am Keith Longmore. American. MAGA. Make America Great Again,” he said.
Five minutes later, the committee degenerates into a shouting match. The national debate around racism, representation and freedom of expression had arrived at the gates of the city.
“Your presence here showed a complete lack of responsibility on the part of the city,” said committee member Reier Erickson in a loud voice. “The fact that you are wearing this shirt shows a complete lack of respect for the work we do here.”
“This committee is a fraud and an affront to the people of this town. These people are good people,” Longmore replied.
“You are not my boss. You have no control over my body. You don’t tell me what to do. You can stop and you can shut your mouth,” Erickson continued.
After a full minute of noisy arguments between the two, committee member Eliana Castro chimed in from the Zoom screen.
“If I can step in, can we break this up for a second?” Castro said.
“No,” Longmore said. “We’re trying to figure out why -“
“Nope?” Castro said. “Okay. So, Keith…”
Committee member Preston Fuller reminded everyone of the rules of the process.
“Reminder of the rules!” he says from Zoom. This stopped the screaming, allowing the meeting to go ahead as planned.
The exchange, however, did not clarify the issues raised by Longmore’s position on the board – a local conservative black business owner, who argued publicly Tuesday night that the committee’s work does more harm than good.
Longmore’s appointment to the BEI committee had been a concern of committee members before he showed up at the committee’s third formal meeting held on Tuesday, May 10.
During his April kick off, band members discussed the potential disruption Longmore could bring to the committee due to his past public statements. And in Maythe committee brought in city officials to answer questions related to his appointment to the group.
Longmore did not attend either meeting.
When he began to question some of the committee’s past actions on Tuesday night, Castro explained that these were past agenda items that he could have had a say in when they first meet.
“People are missing meetings,” Longmore said Tuesday.
“I had a baby a month ago. I was here,” Castro replied.
After the initial outbursts, however, committee chair Leah Christopher quickly reigned over the arguments and the group began to get to work off the meeting agenda.
After committee member Reese Kelly made a statement about the murder of transgender woman Fern Feather in April, the group began working on creating a foundational document – a community agreement – that sets the ground rules. of the discussion.
“At this point, I’m going to implore everyone to take a deep breath and for the rest of the evening to do their best to look their best, don’t interrupt and be respectful. I will not tolerate any behavior that is unbecoming of this committee and this community,” Christopher said before the members began.
While the argument was still pending from ten minutes earlier, the ground rules discussed focused on attending meetings, asking members to declare their intentions, and defining the responsibilities of each committee member, which included research. more on the topics to be discussed.
“We each have our strengths and we all have to work in the areas where we’re not so strong,” Castro said.
If a committee member does not follow through or potentially misses the meeting, then the committee could censure that member, Erickson said. Or the committee could ask the St. Albans City Council to remove them.
Kelly called for the rules to recognize that people have different experiences and that denigrating such experiences or saying they never happened can be demeaning to the people who have had them.
“I experienced homophobia in St. Albans, and someone else who is gay, lesbian or bisexual might say, ‘I’ve never experienced that here.’ This does not mean that our truths are wrong. It just means we had different experiences,” Kelly said.
After suggestions were made on the committee document, Christopher requested that the committee refrain from adopting it until they had time to review it.
“I will be very honest. I think a lot happened tonight that was said and unsaid, and I think it will give people a chance to reflect a bit,” Christopher said.
After concluding that discussion, the committee voted to notify the City of St. Albans of its June 19 flag and requested that the city include the Black Lives Matter emblem on the flag along with a QR code explaining the holiday. The group also endorsed Castro to help the city draft a Juneteenth proclamation.
Longmore, however, wanted to break the subject of his involvement with the committee, which Christopher filed until the end of the meeting.
His argument was that the committee had portrayed St. Albans and its community in broad strokes, thereby defaming its people as “racist abominations”, and that committee members had unfairly dragged its own name through the mud. He also pointed out that Franklin County is a conservative region compared to the rest of Vermont.
“These are just people and the approach and the things that have been said are over the top. A lot of people are very upset,” he said.
As for representation, Longmore said he knew Vermont had a strong white majority before moving here, and he didn’t mind.
“They are white people. They do white stuff. I’m okay with that,” he said.
Committee members pushed back against Longmore’s criticism.
Erickson said Longmore had the wrong idea of the committee’s goals and that the band didn’t set out to change the community because they hated it. Instead, they wanted to see him improve.
The group that Erickson founded, Neighbors for a Safer Saint Albanstracked hundreds of cases of racist images, sayings and memorabilia displayed in public places.
“The thing is, we love this community and we put this in place so the community can be better,” he said.
Castro said that Longmore was guilty of painting in broad strokes himself, and that the community was a diverse set of networks. As for the committee’s comments on Longmore, she stood by what she said.
“None of us said that [the community was racist]we just don’t want you on this committee,” she said.
Fuller said Longmore was also wrong about white people’s ideas about the BEI committee, because members of his own church were “thrilled” about his participation on the committee.
“We have to be careful who we talk to,” he said.
A few days after the meeting, Christopher said that the group was still working on its fundamental documents and she anticipated that it would be able to accomplish good things despite the sometimes difficult discussions that were to arise.
“We knew at the beginning that there would be difficult discussions,” Christopher told the Messenger.” If they weren’t, we would have solved them 100 years ago.