Mayor, council condemn racism
Condemnation of racism was the prevailing message of the June 16 regular meeting of the Franklin City Council.
Franklin Mayor Eugene Foulcard introduced a resolution of solidarity in unity with a St. Mary Parish Council resolution approved June 9 at their regular meeting.
Both resolutions were adopted unanimously.
In a public comment, St. Mary Parish Councilman Craig Mathews addressed the impetus for the two resolutions, “The police brutality that we are seeing in instances across our country, is in my opinion, a direct result of some of the racist attitudes of not just police officers, but people in general who have still not come to terms with the indisputable fact that there is no race that is superior to another.”
He thanked the mayor for “echoing” the sentiments of the parish council’s June 9 resolution, and the city councilmembers for considering the as then unapproved resolution, and further stated, “Any human being that has breath in his/her body, has a righteous mind, has a pure heart, and considers himself/herself to be a Christian, understands that the only way we can overcome the greatest social ill in our society today, that has existed for over 400 years, is to stand together in solidarity, to say very candidly and very honestly that we wholeheartedly and unequivocally condemn any and every form of racism that shows itself in our communities, and in our parish.”
Martin Luther King Committee member Diane Wiltz also spoke about the resolution of solidarity.
She said MLK committee members had spoken via videoconference within the last two weeks, and had expressed the desire to organize a protest in Franklin, to show support for protests across the world demanding racial equality. However, after consideration of the local community’s susceptibility to the dangers of COVID-19, they decided against it.
“Historically, the Martin Luther King Committee has done ceremonial marches, and we felt kind of hypocritical that we always do a ceremonial march in January, and that this is the time when King would be out there marching, but as I said, because of this (COVID-19) we thought it in our best interest not to do that.”
She then asked the council, the mayor, and each member of the Franklin and parish community, “What manner of man would stand for the racism, the hypocrisy, and the things that my country, that I love, has perpetrated on people throughout centuries? Who wouldn’t stand up and say, ‘You know what? It’s time to change. We’ve got to get this right.’”
She entreated the council to be the “What manner of man…” type of men when voting on the resolution.
In closing with a paraphrased quote from King, she said, “The greatest tragedy of American history will not be the clamoring of bad people, but the silence of good people.”
Shortly thereafter, the mayor included in his executive report a specially prepared statement addressing his feelings and point of view concerning the nation’s and Franklin’s roles in stamping out racism.
He began by quoting Dickens’ opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Likening the novel’s title and opening lines to what he said he views as an apt description of the current racially charged atmosphere across the country and abroad, he said, “I sit before you tonight flooded with many emotions, feelings of responsibility and pride for the city I serve, coupled with joy and love for the citizens I serve.
“Add to those emotions the feelings of newfound hope as I witness the revitalization efforts that have not only been promised, but more importantly, are being produced.”
He cited as examples: the downtown pocket park, and the renovation of the “old” post office.
“There are other feelings, however,” Foulcard continued, “that plague me; feelings of fear, doubt, hopelessness, anxiety, and despair, as we continue to live under the threat of what I see as two pandemics.
“The first that caught our attention was, and remains, COVID-19, a viral pandemic that as of today, has taken the lives of over 117,000 Americans, 2,006 Louisianans, and 33 St. Mary Parish residents.
“The second, is what I refer to as the social unrest pandemic, that if not properly addressed, will destroy us as a nation, and possibly as a world.”
He said each of these pandemics is “disturbing,” in its own rite, and called for citizens to “not let ourselves cave-in to our feelings, and do or say anything that might endanger us. Rather, we must channel those feelings to say and do what is best for us individually and collectively.”
In a preamble, he stated that he knew that some of the address he was about to make would offend some who heard it, but nevertheless afforded acquiescence to those opposing viewpoints citing the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
“It saddens and angers me,” he started, “that the freedom of speech of the marginalized people in our society has historically been denied, ignored, disregarded, mocked, ridiculed, and even sometimes erased.
“When George Floyd uttered, ‘I can’t breathe,’ his words and his plea for his life were ignored and were disregarded.
“His First Amendment rights were fatally oppressed. Only because it was videoed, it could not be ignored or erased from in front (of the eyes) of the world.
“If this were just an isolated incident, we would say, ‘end of story,’ that it was the arresting officer that lynched him in broad daylight with a knee on his neck, and we could have walked away from it, as he sat in front of a jury and let the jury take care of their business, and we would have ‘kept it moving.’
“But, this was not the beginning of the ending to that tragic story. Rather, George Floyd’s story was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Foulcard then lamented the numerous other stories of police brutality against African-Americans, and what he called, “the thickening of the plot.”
He pointed to the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery who was gunned down near Brunswick, Ga. while jogging, after being chased by three white men who said they thought he fit the description of a suspected burglar in the area.
“What happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty,’” Foulcard asked.
“But that is not the end of the story,” he declared. “We have also seen on national news media, a young white woman in New York falsely accusing a young African-American male of threatening her life. Heaven forbid that young man had not videoed what really happened. It’s quite likely he would have been arrested by the police, and handcuffed, if not killed, or sent to jail by a judge for a crime that in reality, he did not commit.
“All of these acts of injustice, and countless others, are unconscionable, so while we don’t like to admit it, America has perpetrated a history of a ‘tale of two cities,’ and has perpetrated a reign of terror on marginalized people.”
He went on to say, “As we celebrate our bi-centennial here in Franklin, I am saddened to be reminded that the Knights of the White Camelia, described as an all-white, southern, American male political terrorist organization, was formed and founded right here in our very hometown of Franklin, and wreaked a reign of terror.
“Thank God we have come a long way. If not, Councilman Garrison, Mayor Pro Tempore Levine, Councilman Guilbeau, and Police Chief Morris Beverly would not be in this administration.”
Foulcard recounted that his father, Carl Foulcard Sr., was the first African-American elected in the history of Franklin, and that had the racial disparities between the ethnicities in the city not changed, he doubted any of the named attendees of the meeting would have been able to be at the meeting that night, at all.
“Some people might ask why I felt the need to bring this up,” Foulcard continued. “My answer is simple… those who fail to know their history are apt to repeat it, and I have no doubt that none of us would want that.
“All that said, let me be crystal clear why people are fed up, why people are protesting and demonstrating.
“It can be summed up in the words of the late Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist who once said, ‘I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.’
“People are weary. People are angry about the injustices that have been historically perpetrated on people of color before even the founding of this country.
“All of this sounds dire, but here’s the good news: unlike the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic of today, which has no cure, the good news is that there is a cure for the virus that caused the social pandemic. The good news is that people are willing to work together, and we are seeing it happen before our very eyes.
“The good news is that people of all colors, genders, religions, cultures and societies are sitting at one table to discuss and create policy changes that will ultimately eradicate systemic racism regarding disparities in education, housing, healthcare, job opportunities, equal pay and voter suppression.
“I don’t know about you, but I want to be at the table, because as the saying goes, ‘If you are not sitting at the table, then you are on the menu.’”
He said that right now, all people have an opportunity to figuratively sit at the table to become a part of society’s better and stronger self.
As far as the things that his administration is doing to better Franklin for its citizens, Foulcard pointed to the city’s Blighted Structure Mitigation Project, Franklin Police Chief Morris Beverly’s community policing efforts, Public Relations Director Ed “Tiger” Verdin’s production of the “Rise Up” video made in April, and a new sensitivity training initiative being implemented which will reportedly be required for every city employee.
“Fortunately, or unfortunately, we do not live in a vacuum,” he said. “Our citizenship in Franklin, St. Mary Parish, and in Louisiana makes us citizens of the United States of America.
“What does that mean? Well, to me it means that the current state of affairs in our nation is disrupted, whether we immediately feel the effects or not, as American citizens, we too are disrupted.
“So, what do we do? We can sit and do nothing, and pretend that the disruption has nothing to do with us. We can close our eyes and pretend that everything is just fine here, and just be silent. We could say that it is not our business. But, I agree with the late Martin Luther King, who said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’
“As I see it, it would be inhumane and morally wrong to do nothing; it would go against the flag which we pledge allegiance to for ‘justice for all.’ It would be a mockery to our Declaration of Independence, (wherein is stated) ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’”
The mayor concluded his statement by saying, “Let’s stay ‘Franklin strong,’ and God bless you.”
The resolution of solidarity was passed unanimously and synchronously by the council and to standing ovations by all in the council chamber.