Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar, in remarks during the City Council meeting Tuesday, praised last Sunday's peaceful local demonstration against racism in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officers.
Then McCollar went on to say that Statesboro is not exempt from bigotry or even from police brutality. Those who remain silent or deny that these evils exist are as guilty as the perpetrators, he asserted.
"This Sunday about 300 people showed up on the courthouse lawn, and we showed America how you can peacefully disagree with things that's going on within our country, and to see those young people – well, people of all ages and races – come together, and in one voice saying that enough is enough," McCollar began.
Organizers have since announced that another event, billed as "a peaceful protest calling for an end to racial violence and police brutality," will be held this Saturday at 2 p.m., also on the Bulloch County Courthouse lawn.
After his compliment to the peaceful demonstrators, McCollar on Tuesday morning said that his following remarks were his alone, and not on behalf of the council.
“This is the mayor's thoughts, but America's had a problem for a very long time, and what my hope is that this is the generation that has the courage to right a wrong that America has failed to address over years,” he said, “and this is nothing to do with anyone feeling that, hey, this is a political ideology. No, this is about human beings being treated like human beings.
“In America, we have to have the courage to address this because the world is watching us, and we cannot pretend to be the land of the free and home of the brave and we don't treat all of our citizens the exact same way. If one is free, then all is free, but if one is not free, then none are free."
After quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s declaration that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” McCollar said, “It is time for us to have the courage to speak the truth. America, you have not dealt with the issue of race. You have not.”
He spoke of racism cloaked “in our politics, in our social clubs, in our education systems, in our criminal justice systems” and said the cycle keeps repeating itself because the issue of fair treatment has not been addressed.
“If you are tired of people protesting and you are tired of seeing our cities burn, then do something about it by having the courage to address the fact that these people are not out there lying, they are telling you the truth, and it seems the only time that we can get the attention of the world is if some business is burned, but nobody says anything about the blood of these people running in the streets. …,” McCollar said.
Boro not exempt
“I'm not going to make you feel comfortable in your ignorance if you believe that we do not have a problem,” he continued. “I'm a mayor that's going to tell you the truth whether you like it or not … and I'm telling you our city is not exempt. We have this same foolishness, this same ignorance, this same bigotry right here in our community, and we must have the courage to address it. We must. I love this community entirely too much to lie to it.”
McCollar called for citizens to take personal responsibility.
“We must make a change,” he said. “If somebody feels comfortable around you making bigoted comments around you and you don't say nothing, you are just as wrong as they are. If you see a law enforcement officer… going around this community beating on people, and we have officers that knew this and did not say a word, the officer that don't say anything, the officer that don't say anything is just as wrong as the officer that is doing the crime."
In the middle of that statement, he mentioned one former Statesboro Police Department officer by name.
“We're going to have truth and righteousness in here,” McCollar said from his central seat on the council dais. “This is heartbreaking. In America we're better than this. We are better than this. But potential means nothing if we're not willing to put the work into moving our nation forward. I am tired. I'm tired of the lynchings I'm tired of the shootings, I'm tired of all this over and over again….”
“It's time for us to say time out. It is time for us to stand up and be who we are,” he said.
Statesboro’s mayor said that the data and the people who tell of terrible things happening in their communities ought to be believed.
"If you can't believe them, you can't believe the data, you can't believe the history, then you are part of the problem. …, We have a problem in our nation and we have leadership that lacks the moral fortitude to do what is right,” he said. “We never look for leadership to be perfect, but can we at least have leadership to try to get it right?”
“And for those of you that's standing up on the side of what's right, I applaud you, because you can see this is not easy, it's not easy work, and we need allies across the board because America is black, it's brown, it's gay, it's straight, it's Hispanic, it's black, it's white, it is all of us. …,” McCollar said.
Later in the meeting, District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr commented, “I just want to say, ‘Amen’ to what the mayor said. It’s time for us to stop being shy and looking the other way. It’s time for allies to speak up when they see something wrong.
“And I want to say, I want to commend our police chief and I think that our local cops are doing a good job, and I think that we are trying to maintain training and to have accountability, because all of us have these unseen biases … and if you don’t consciously do the work, they come into play in the way that you treat people,” she continued.
“And so I’m proud of all the people in Statesboro, of all colors, of all backgrounds, those who came out to say, it’s time to be fair to everybody, it’s time to stop looking the other way.”