Friday, July 8, 2016

Human Rights Commission seeks investigation of City

Condemns Mayor Gooch’s opinion of Black Lives Matter

On Friday, the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (KYCHR) issued a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Western District of Kentucky asking the department to investigate Providence citizens’ allegations of police mistreatment based on race and color. 

“Please be advised that the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights has received verbal and written complaints from citizens of Providence, Ky., regarding alleged racial profiling, harassment and/or mistreatment of residents by certain city police officers,” stated John J. Johnson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights in a press relese.

In addition, Executive Director Johnson expressed the commission’s concern about Mayor Eddie Gooch’s response to the citizens’ concerns.

At the center of Johnson’s argument was Gooch’s reference to the organization Black Lives Matter as a ‘racist’ organization at a recent city council meeting, where numerous citizens had gathered to voice concern over an officially unnamed police officer’s treatment of African Americans.

At the city council meeting on June 6, 2016, Gooch did state:
 “All lives matter,” to which several members of the audience responded, “No, black lives matter.”
Without responding to the outburst from the audience, Gooch went on to say, “That is a racist organization, and a racist sign and you will not wear it back in these council chambers.”
Executive Director Johnson said the mayor’s remarks were troubling to the commission.

“Mayor Gooch’s statements belie a profound misunderstanding of the “Black Lives Matter” public awareness concept, which arose in response to a growing number of African Americans who had been killed by police officers,” said Johnson.  “Certainly all lives matter.  But if police are unfairly targeting black citizens for abusive treatment, including death, then no lives will be safe.”

 In his letter to the Department of Justice, Johnson said:
“The mayor’s interactions with residents at the city council meeting on June 7 and his statements about ‘Black Lives Matter’ do not instill confidence that the civil and constitutional rights of the residents of Providence will be protected.” 

Gooch explained that his statement at the time was really a misunderstanding on his part.
“I don’t hear very well,” he said. “When Patricia Darnes started addressing the council I thought she was comparing the Providence Police Department to Ferguson, Missouri. I took offense to that because Providence is nothing like that. Just like anyone else, when I’m aggravated, the first thing out of my mouth isn’t always the best thing.”

Although Gooch says that he regretted the way he responded, he does not apologize.

“I have the right to my opinion,” he stated. “I do believe that Black Lives Matter is a hate group. When 39 black people were killed by 39 black people in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend, where was Black Lives Matter? They weren’t there protesting. They only protest when a black person is killed by police. That was the point I tried to get across. There is no room for any racist groups in this country.”
The status of the Black Lives Matter movement is not one that is not likely to be answered in Providence, KY. Since the organization first appeared in the national spotlight, it has been praised by some, while being condemned by others.

Fox News hosts Bill O’Riely and Elizabeth Hasselbeck have both questioned BLM’s status. Hasselbeck  voiced her disgust at chants of “pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon” by reported Black Lives Matter activists at the Minnesota State Fair last summer following the death of a law enforcement officer.

At the same time, groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center have begun to label White Lives Matter as a racist movement.

Ultimately Gooch admitted that he was wrong to tell Darnes not to wear her Black Lives Matter shirt to the council meeting. 

“She has just as much right to her opinion as I do mine,” he said. “I can’t tell her that she can’t wear that shirt and I can’t have her escorted out by police if she does. That would be trampling on her rights.”

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