Opinion: A shot from a gun, or from the lip – race relations require understanding, not grandstanding

Mark Chapman
Mark Chapman

Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart trying to define pornography: “I know it when I see it” (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964).

NORWALK, Conn. – How do you define racism? Does racist behavior mean someone is a racist?

Is racism always something tangible, like, well, pornography? Is it hoods and sheets, torches and nooses, “Colored Bathroom” signs? Or is it something more insidious – stop-and-frisk laws that target people of color, being followed by security personnel in a store, being told “sorry, the house has been sold” when you know it’s still on the market?

Or maybe it’s an attitude, a word or expression here and there, something that suggests “you look different, you think different, and I don’t like it.”

A lot of people – white people, people who came of age as part of the majority, with all the rights and privileges that come with that – cannot relate to what is in the minds of those who experienced the other side of the equation. What was it like? What is it like getting dirty looks simply for being present? What goes through the mind of a child being told they will be targets and suspects because they were born black?

We see this being played out in Ferguson, Mo. and in New York City on the nightly news. And we see it being played out, on a smaller, not-deadly scale, in Norwalk.

You are white. You watch the Board of Education meetings, you listen to the interactions, you see and hear nothing to suggest racism. You hear people ask questions that have been answered, question items that have been long ago approved, and understand the exasperated tones and body language of the chairman. You wonder how anyone can interpret this as a racial problem.

Then you hear “the girl who cried black,” and, if you are prone to looking at both sides of an issue, you stop. You remember something about “shekels,” and you begin to wonder. You hear no rebukes coming from the leadership, already dug in with the “not responding” statements, and you wonder: Is there something to the complaints? Is there at the very least the perception of racism – maybe latent, maybe unintended racist behavior, but racism – in play?

John Mosby grew up in the Jim Crow South, separate and unequal. I remember visiting a statuary garden in South Carolina when I was a child. My father pointed out the “colored bathroom” sign and told me what it meant. I looked inside and it was filthy, likely not cleaned for days or weeks. The “whites only” bathroom was clean and bright. There are so many stories like this that I could relate, but the point is, when you are subjected to this treatment, it has an effect. For some, the effect lasts a lifetime. And the more these concerns and complaints are dismissed as drivel, the more it looks like racism.

It would have been better if Shirley Mosby had expressed her beliefs in private to the people who are being accused, rather than making grandiose public statements intended to embarrass and shame. And it would have been better if Jack Chiaramonte had not then offered up Exhibit A in the evidence department, then Exhibit B by doubling down when he could have walked it back.

And it would have been better had Mayor Harry Rilling stepped in right away, when the accusations were made, to put a lid on the public statements and to hear both sides. Wanting to see evidence is natural – especially when officially contacted by the NAACP Legal Redress Committee – but talking about a problem, listening to people who believe they are aggrieved, is important. While the mayor is an ex-officio board member, and the city and BOE function under separate governing bodies, the mayor is the city’s top elected official and, as such, has the bully pulpit as the people’s chosen leader. He may not have the power some believe he has, but his words should and do carry the weight of the voters. Those words need to be heard more often.



22 responses to “Opinion: A shot from a gun, or from the lip – race relations require understanding, not grandstanding”

  1. srb1228

    agree 100%

  2. Norewalk Lifer

    Good op ed, but I must insist, that political correctness has gotten to the point, where communication is muddled and obfuscated by the need to be politely on point;

    I think that the comments Ms. Mosby made should have been made in private also, but I do not know if she’s already made these in private and was ignored. I do not know what kind of one on one behaviours the board maintains.

    I’ve seen the comments from Mr. Lyons here and to be sure, his language is off putting at times.

    I’ve engaged Mr. Chriaramonte here, and again, approached him in a respectful but firm manner, I find his frustration to be overbearing, and authoritative.

    I will not comment on Mr. Mosby’s actions, except to say, that if there is habitual complaints of racism, then it should be put to rest, by engagement and communication.

    There may have been investigations into these charges, but I would argue the investigative forum may not have been adequate.

    Let’s stop the constant Freudian interpretation of a person’s motive; I see the responses here from Board members, and frankly, I find them lacking.

    Mr. Lyons appears to have an issue with personal engagement; he’s a fine statistician, but on the human level? not so much. People are often cold to this kind of behavior. Citing statistics and reports without a commentary of a personal nature, well, that’s just avoiding the subject.

    Did Ms. Mosby state she wanted to pull every white hair out of Mr. Lyons head? did she say this to Mr. Lyons? if so, she should apologize.

    But truth be told, Mr. Lyon’s hair IS white, I hope this isn’t somehow being morphed into a statement of racism, that’s completely silly.

    And Mr. Chiaramonte, while well meaning, certainly passionate is probably not a racist, but he is certainly foolish. Maybe immature, maybe unable to think before he speaks.

    Like I have stated to Mr. Chiaramonte, I’ve frequented his jewelry store on many occasions before it closed, I found him cordial, funny, a nice man, but that’s a different setting isn’t it?

    So I ask, if Ms. Mosby went into Mr. Chiaramonte’s store and bought jewelry, having never met him before, she’d probably have a better opinion of him, and he, her.

    I think the setting is toxic, I just responded to Mr. Torrano’s op ed about how lucky we are to have this BOE; citing two individuals, I disagree, Norwalk is lucky to have student who wish to strive, who help each other, who are proud of their achievements, no matter how small.

    We are lucky to have these students, I do not see the students engaging in this debate, just a few people who find this entertaining, self validating, sensational.

    Sensationalism is fine, there are quite a few reality shows people can watch to satisfy this sweet tooth; I suggest they watch them.

    I find the students, and over the years, more and more, I am impressed with their achievements; give them the right tools to learn, and they will.

    Give them a board fractious with dissent, discord, and subterfuge, and they will ignore them.

    Every parent in Norwalk is proud of their children, no one has the right nor the license to question that; if you do, then you invite observation on your motivations.

    Political correctness may be a tight funnel, but that does not mean we can’t observe in a global sense, and state that maybe, just maybe, the adults in charge, take too much credit for the achievements, and not enough blame for the failures.

    I think that’s called maturity

    Norwalk Lifer

  3. Don’t Panic

    So true. And I couldn’t agree more with Lifer about the disappointing response from board leadership on this issue. An honest broker of reconciliation would ask what is contributing to the perception of racism here, just as a god judge will recuse when there is a perception of a conflict of interest. Even we’ll meaning self aware people who don’t think of themselves as racist have demonstrated sub-conscious differences in their responses to people of color in psychological studies.
    And the same holds true in reverse. There are times when people genuinely dislike each other for any number of reasons. It is easy to attribute disparate treatment to race when you are exposed to so much of it over a lifetime.
    I think there is a strong possibility that the gender of ms Rivas, ms Murray and ms Mosby has as much to do with this as race. Women who question the power structures in this town frequently experience this kind of marginalization as well.
    I sincerely hope all parties can open a dialog that is constructive. This will begin with the minority voting block articulating some clear goals that they are trying to achieve. If not this, then what? It is clear what they are saying no to. What has been missing is what they are asking others to say yes to. Focusing on the specifics of process and policy rather than expressing opinions that the current course is “not what is best for the children”. This is the “wearing of the other persons shoes” that must take place from the other direction.

  4. Scott

    Racism is like the Chinese symbol of the dragon eating its tail. It perpetuates itself from both sides. New generations have been born but they can’t get by it because both sides keep it going. I don’t want to be made to feel guilty for being white. People of color don’t want to be treated differently for their appearance. Whether this is actual or perceived by both parties does not matter. It is a fire that will forever fuel itself and no one knows how to extinguish it. I am of mostly Irish heritage and their was a time in this country when Irish people were thought of no better than people of color. How did people get by that? Would that answer apply for people of color or is the problem all just visual. The fact is that both sides need to bend a little so we can get past this so that we can save future generations from this trauma.

  5. Norewalk Lifer

    What you say Scott is very true, as well as Don’t Panic, JFK’s election was a watershed wasn’t it?
    As was Lincoln’s a poor kid who made to president
    Kennedy was the grandson of an Irish bar keep in Boston, whose accomplishments led him to the presidency, the Kennedy’s certainly have shown a willingness to serve, in spite of the cloud of tragedy that hovers over the family, it’s the makings of a greek tragedy.
    And today we have a learned president who himself, was the product of American exceptionalism. That’s what makes this country great; the second wind attitude we have, the no birthright zone we live in. Strive and you can achieve, there are no fiefdoms, there are no duchy’s, there are no birth rights. Only Americans.
    I had occasion to speak of this last year, to colleagues in Europe, I don’t know about you, but I remember a time when sour cream was an exotic food found in grocery stores; the late fifties and early sixties, that product, the gift of the Lebanese that came to this country, Brazil and Mexico, was a contribution to the American culture, and in true American fashion, we add onion soup mix and turn it into something that every single household, Black, White, Spanish, you name it, added to the list of wonderful American treats, who can deny onion dip isn’t 100% American?
    Born of the staple many Lebanese people found on their tables, just as we find ketchup and peanut butter.
    The great thing about America is she doesn’t hold to one culture, one color, one religion, one ideal, out of the many, the one, E Pluribus Unum.
    There is no person who isn’t Irish on St. Pats, there is no person who isn’t snapping a finger or tapping a toe to Elvis, The Four Tops, Little Richard, Bruce Springsteen.
    I cite these things because they make us Americans, we are not quite sure of who we are, but many times in the past, we had a helluva good time trying to figure that out.
    Time to do that again.

    Norwalk Lifer

  6. MarjorieM

    Yes!!!!! Finally an understanding of how the Black community reacts to the looks, comments, innuendos etc., especially from white men. Racism, anti-Semitism, anti-gayism…all the “anti-isms” create fear in their targets and lack of trust that lasts for generations. What damage we humans do can not be undone quickly. It is up to white men (especially) to sit down and honestly listen to the complaints, whether valid or not, to allay these fears iin the community. I believe you would be surprised at what you learn from them.
    Behaviors do need to change. Chiarmonte and Lyons, I challenge you to be this change!

  7. One and Done

    What does skin color have to do with not reading packets and preparing for meetings? How many children in destitute regions of Africa, Central America, or South East Asia wouldn’t give anything to be subjected to the cruelties our poor face here? Stop whining already and get to work.

  8. M. Murray’s

    Maybe we could put dividers between them so they can’t see each other, have them read their packets and vote without comment.

  9. piberman

    Since there is no recorded instance either in Norwalk or elsewhere in CT of several members of a BOE publicly declaring that they are subject to discrimination by the BOE itself without having disclosed their “evidence” or even taking the elemental step of raising the issue within the BOE itself are we to now believe that something has changed in Norwalk. Or is it the behavior of the 3 individuals themselves that’s out of the ordinary. Many if not most of us who have looked at the public record of their performance on the BOE prior to their public denunciation of the BOE sans any disclosed evidence would point to a record of lackluster participation and useful inputs.

    A quick reading of the City Charter finds no grounds for the Mayor interfering with the business of the BOE. That the Mayor avoided any public criticism of the 3 BOE members for accusing the BOE itself might well suggest the Mayor does not speak for the community. One can suggest that most Norwalk citizens find the accusations by the 3 BOE members inappropriate behavior by public officials.

    Finally one wonders why those interested in the unsubstantiated charges by 3 non-performing BOE members to be more important than encouraging the continued well being and successful implementations of our revitalized BOE. Is criticizing the BOE more important than encouraging and recognizing its substantial successes ? Is that really more newsworthy ? Are there any citizens who believe the BOE would be better managed by these 3 dissatisfied BOE members ? Would their leadership elicit better performance from our Superintendent ?
    Would parents celebrate ? Political leaders endorse such a shift in leadership ? Is it really appropriate behavior to ask for resignations of current and past BOE Chairs by non-performing BOE members crying “discrimination” to call attention to themselves ? If they really “had the goods” they’d be in court.

  10. RU4REAL

    Very true Mark.

  11. Bill

    Mosby can’t make a good argument and she is constantly on the losing side of votes, so in frustration she plays the race card. This can be explained in one sentence.

  12. Scott

    An article about the grand scope of racism in America and all you people can see is the end of your noses and choose to continue you’d BOE infighting. Last I checked there were more than enough articles on that subject where you could comment. How about some real world ideas to open minds and make us better people.

  13. Joanne Romano

    Bottom line folks is at the end of the day we all bleed the same color and God doesn’t make mistakes. Who are we to judge anyone. If everyone would just take deep breaths and stop the innuendos and accusations and get down to the business at hand perhaps our kids will actually be represented on all levels. Take some of that negative energy and turn it to positive. I don’t understand why when people don’t agree on something that we have to put labels like racism, discrimination etc. Didn’t everyone have the same goal when running for these positions? This city is a grand melting pot of many race, religions and ethnic backgrounds. Time to represent all. Keep in mind that once elected you have the task of representing the entire population not pick and choose!

  14. concerned student

    @ J. Romano well said.
    @ Norwalk Lifer, I’m glad your experience at the silver shop was a pleasant one.
    When I visited the shop the owner stood in one spot never greeted me, and acted like I wasn’t there!!
    When I ran into his assistant who encouraged me to stop by again, I decided not to.
    I do not feel I have to patronize, or spend my money in places that do not know how to treat me as a paying customer!
    Jack planted the racism seed in my head that day, and in the store that day I was the only customer!!!!

  15. Don’t Panic

    only very stupid people and ideologues leave smoking gun evidence of racism this day and age.
    It is possible for well meaning people with good intentions to act in a discriminatory way. When this is played or in a policy forum or is difficult to discern it. But that does not remove the obligation to investigate it. It took this country decades to work that one out with sexual harassment in the workplace and disability accomodation.
    in fact, it is so difficult to administer the perception that we have federal laws in place to make sure that the process is fair.
    I keep asking myself what possible motive these women could have for making these charges if there was no cause. Their requests revolve around better communications with respect to packets and accommodation for a disability.
    is it that hard to meet those requests?

  16. Chuck

    A solid education is an anecdote to racism. Mosby, Murray and Rivas would better serve their cause by caring less about themselves and more about the students they are there to serve.

  17. Scott

    It’s good to be ignored.

  18. David

    Well said Mark.

  19. RU4REAL

    Let’s flip this, your a white guy going into a minority empty store and the guy ignores you. C’mon folks that aint right no matter what color you are.
    Ms. Mosby may be right.

  20. sofaman

    @RU4REAL that is absolutely right, and reading concerned student’s comment is a wake up call not to be ignored. However, this is exactly how we’ve come to the situation we are in.

    Vague, unsubstantiated racist accusations have no place in modern politics. It’s a cheap and nasty trick.

    A very unprofessional (and public) comment was made towards Mr. Lyons at the beginning of this new BOE’s schedule by Ms. Mosbey. This clearly reveals a fundamental intent to politicize the Board’s activities at every opportunity. Ms. Mosbey has delivered on her promise. Why are we pretending this is something other than political gamesmanship? I would suggest that someone who puts their personal politics ahead of the needs of students is not fit to serve on the board, and should be immediately removed. This is not sweeping anything under the rug, as there seems to be nothing to sweep. And, to be clear, if racist statements/comments HAVE been made, that person should also immediately be removed. There’s work to be done. Let’s move on.

  21. SWAT not needed

    Kinda off thread, cant find an appropriate thread to post but think its important enough for an article and discussion, BEFORE, someone gets hurt. There have been at least 4 call outs for SWAT on residential homes so far this summer, surrounding neighborhoods and forcing residents to mandatorily evacuate. Two of these SWAT call outs were middle of the night evacuations. Looking around the country it is obviously time to rethink police strategy’s and tactics. It appears that all Norwalks recent SWAT call outs involved emotionally disturbed persons, at least the impression of an EDP. It may be time to rethink how these calls are responded to, at least, without further confirmations of an edp with a weapon, as opposed to terrorizing neighborhoods with military lockdowns and itchy trigger finger snipers in the woods. Last nights apparent swatting, ( a fake emergency call using technolgy to hide the callers id or supplant a fake number), had SWAT evacuating homes at 4 am. After homes were evacuated and residents told to stage at Kendall School, officers than tried to relocate the homeowners to obtain the keys to the homes, supposedly to contact via phone the reported edp. Do SWAT members not have cell phones? The ease at which SWAT is called out needs close scrutiny and reexamination. Here’s an idea, how about try knocking on the doors and confirming the need for such massive responses and all that fire power BEFORE calling in the heavy artillery?

  22. SWAT not needed

    adenddum; Not long ago a 90 year old woman was shot and killed by police in Atlanta in her home of 30 years and recently a baby was severely burned when a flash bang grenade was tossed in a window right into the baby’s crib during a no knock drug raid, in Corniel Georgia. In both incidents the SWAT raids were found to be raiding the wrong houses. In another incident, sometime ago in Florida, after hours long failed negotiations with an emotionally disturbed woman in her 40’s, locked in her bedroom, a swat officer broke down her bedroom door and shot and killed the woman as she sat in her bed, she had no weapons what so ever. The officer was relived of duty and terminated and eventually went to prison on a lengthy sentence for bank robbery. Just recently in Weston mutual aid SWAT raided a home and shot and killed a resident based on a shaky statement by an even shakier witness, which is now costing defendants, in claims by the deceased estate, a pretty penny. There are countless incidents of well, lets call it what it is, abuse of power, at the least misuse of power, at the very least extremely poor police management, nationwide. With prolific profiling and spiraling inequality on many levels of our society, unequal economic opportunities, unequal educational opportunities and unequal justice, (all fully documented), it should not be a surprise to see folks protesting and protesting loudly. Nor should it come as a surprise that peoplerebel, when feeling disenfranchised and at a point of complete loss of confidence in the system. Watching the heavy handed displays of authority in many locations, the training, tactics and hardware deployed, it is obvious, even to the myopic, all this is not headed in the right direction. The editor, here, has commented numerous times about the ineffectiveness of people attempting to communicate by yelling at each other or worse not talking at all, rather than listening to each other. Lets face the truth, what happened in Ferguson is a nation wide epidemic of the (us vs them) virus. And its not isolated to the US. It’s a safe bet everyone reading this considers themselves not to be racist and fairly open minded, right? So maybe its time we took a closer look at ourselves, our communities and encourage leaders to review policies and to yes, use that bully pulpit and set the course and tone for a a much more productive path forward, together. It shouldn’t take even one life no less filling a graveyard to come to the higher awareness its not (us vs them), excluding ISIL, of course, which is definitely a them, for us all. Besides insane blood thirsty fanatics from an ancient era, we are all in this together and when some suffer we all suffer, we all loose something, in some way. It is expected that police protect themselves and the public, however good judgement also needs to be a working component. There is no more powerful resource for police than knowing the beat and the people. They used to term it community policing. We need to get back to that strategy and stow up the armor. Walk and talk as a opposed to drawing battle lines. We need to stand down with the bazooka’s and step up and extend a knowing helping hand. We don’t need a call to arms, well, maybe for ISIL, what we need here is a call of hands, working together to build better, fairer just systems, that work for all. Or we can armor up, build 30 foot concrete walls topped with electrically charged wire with armed towers, surveilance cameras and drones everywhere, anti personel land mines on our lawns and iron dome anti motar/rocket systems on our roofs, driving our kids to school with bullet proof back packs in cars with bullet proof glass and rubber. Or we can demand and insist on accountability on all levels, starting with federal legislation mandating lapel cams on all law enforcement patrol persons nationwide and a review on policies regarding deployments and use of armor and weapons made for the battle field. Its our world…
    Tags, Michael Brown, Kelly Thomas, James Boyd, Jonathon Ferrel, Eric Garner, Arthur Lee McDuffie, Rodney King, Omar Abrego, Wendy Lawrence,Kajiem Powell, Abdul Arian, atc. etc. etc. List is too long to tag.

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