Lake City Florida: Police Chief & City Manager In Confederate Flag – Jury Out
Posted July 17, 2012
By Stew Lilker
LAKE CITY, FL – Last night in Lake City, City Hall, Mayor Steve Witt, the City Council, and an overflow standing room only crowd listened patiently as speaker after speaker spoke about the Police Chief, the City Manager, the Stars and Bars/Confederate Battle Flag and Civil War/Lake City history. Some were asking for the resignation of the Police Chief, the City Manager and the removal of the Confederate Flag from the City logo/seal and some were there to defend the very same things. Folks came from as far away as the Carolinas to express their views. Lake City’s Mayor Steve Witt (photo) gave everyone the chance to be heard and as much time as they needed. Most everyone was respectful of the time.
The first speaker was long time Columbia County NAACP local chapter president, John Mayo. The local chapter had backed off its earlier demands calling for the resignation or removal of the Police Chief and City Manger and the removal of the Confederate Flag from the City logo.
Mr. Mayo told the Council that the local branch of the NAACP met on Friday night and determined that they wanted to have a town hall meeting on July 30th, 7:30 pm, at the Richardson Community Center, "to inform the community about our concerns with what goes on within the police department." Mr. Mayo mentioned that the City would be hearing from the State NAACP regarding this meeting.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference
The next speaker was the State President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization founded by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in 1957: My name is Pastor R. L. Gundy. I am the State President for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. My purpose for being here is to make sure without a doubt that the SCLC at the state and national level is calling for the Chief of Police and the City Manager’s resignation, immediately."
After running through a list of alleged wrongs in the Lake City Police Department, Pastor Gundy said that he had information that City Manager Wendell Johnson had used the N-word "as it relates to Americans of African descent. That cannot be tolerated in this day and time."
Pastor Gundy then brought up the issue of the Confederate flag on the Lake City logo, which is prominent on City stationery and vehicles. He told the Council, "You have a right to do that, if that’s what you want to do. This being 2012, it’s time for you to do something different. There comes a point in time when we have to lay some stuff down."
Pastor Gundy concluded, "I pray; I hope; I plead with you to do the right thing and make the right decisions. The evidence that you have, you know it. Here is a plea to you. Here is a commitment to you. If you don’t do it now we’ll just keep coming; keep marching; keep protesting until you finally get the message. God bless you."
Lake City’s Community Revival Church
Pastor Clive Douglas, Pastor of the Community Revival Church followed. In a few words he summed up the feelings of many: Injustice is being projected in this City in a wide spread. I am in agreement with asking for the resignation of the City Manager and the Chief of Police. Our children and people in the black community are fearful because injustice is being done. It was born out of prejudice and hatred — the Confederate flag. Some of you call it heritage, but we call it hatred. We’re living in a time where we need to focus on one flag, one people, one nation under God, serving him with liberty and justice for all. I pray this will impact the City to make the right decision.
The State NAACP
Dale Landry, president Tallahassee branch of the NAACP, read a prepared statement on behalf of Adora Nweze, the NAACP state president.
Mr. Landry began: The Florida State Conference of the NAACP calls for the resignation of Lake City Manager and Police Chief amid controversy regarding a photograph, lack of retention of African American police officers and insensitivity regarding continued use of the Confederate flag as part of the official seal and on government vehicles.
Included in the written statement was the following: President Nweze, along with members of the Columbia County branch of the NAACP, met with Chief Gilmore where President Nweze advised her she was requesting her resignation after showing her the photograph and advising her that information relating to the photograph indicated she (Chief Gilmore) had commented that it was "community outreach." Chief Gilmore during the discourse indicated the comment of community outreach did not occur and further challenged the NAACP interpretation of the photograph.
Mr. Landry announced that President Nweze will be coming back to Lake City to host the town hall meeting for which Mr. Mayo called. "She is assuming her authority as the president for the Florida state conference (NAACP)."
Mr. Landry concluded: I want to say thank you to everybody here, because based on these elements and the actions with Chief Gilmore, and the photograph, and the stuff we’ve seen, the state president has now taken it on that Florida will now become the third state to ratify the position calling for the elimination of the Confederate flag and the status that it is. Lake City will become ground zero, as we move forward on a national campaign to help do this. Thank you.
A Local Citizen and Business Woman
Elizabeth Allum, a community business woman, spoke in support of the Chief and said, "Neither the Chief, nor the City Manager started this mess. We need the courts to make a determination. It’s unfair to ask the Council to make a decision without all the facts."
Southern Confederate Veterans Mechanized Cavalry
Ron Colson, the captain of the Southern Confederate Veterans Mechanized Cavalry, came from Tallahassee and spoke next on behalf of Chief Gilmore.
Mr. Colson praised the reputation and character of Chief Gilmore and stated that her photo op with the group "is of little significance."
Mr. Colson spoke of the good works of the Mechanized Cavalry and explained that "the group spends endless days and hours educating or entertaining the public regarding the truth about your ancestors and mine, or the rich history of a place such as Columbia County, Florida."
Mr. Colson continued, "Many despicable groups have misused our proud Confederate banner, and many disparaging remarks are frequently made regarding us or any others who might proudly display it… We know that the truth will only be received from us if our character and commitment have earned us the right to be heard."
Mr. Colson told the Council that Chief Gilmore was not endorsing any philosophies that the group might hold, "She was out there as a good ambassador. I would hope that she was representing you."
The website of the SCV Mechanized Cavalry reminds the reader: Ride as you would with Forrest, conduct yourself as you would in the presence of Robert E. Lee!
Mr. Colson was the only guest in City Hall sporting an emblem with a Confederate symbol.
A number of members of the Lake City Police Department were in full dress uniform in the audience. Police Officer Gerald Ford said, "The Chief is not running people off, she is welcoming them in."
HK Edgerton – He came from the Carolinas
The next speaker came in from the Carolinas. He began, "Members of the Council, members of the public, I am HK Edgerton, president of Southern heritage 411… and am bound by oath to defend the Confederate soldier’s good name."
Mr. Edgerton addressed the concerns of Columbia County’s NAACP president, John Mayo: John Mayo voiced concern about a jacket that read Ride with Forrest and that the Honorable Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest founded the Klan, and that everybody knows that the Southern Cross is known by everybody to be a hate symbol. While Gen. Forrest did head up the Klan, his leadership helped break the back of the so-called reconstruction in the South, and the criminal activities of the Union League and carpetbag rule that heaped terror upon the women of the South in lieu of their race or social status.
Lake City Police Officer Craig Strickland was next up at the microphone: I want to speak this evening because we’re out here because of one simple photo that was taken, and it is my personal belief it is also being used as a springboard for another political agenda."
A few moments into Officer Strickland’s remarks, some folks left the room. Officer Strickland is one of the Public Information Officers with the LCPD. It was not clear, as he stood there in his full dress uniform, if he was speaking for the Department, the Chief, the City, himself, or some combination.
Officer Strickland went on to say, "We’re here because of biased allegations; feelings based off of a spirit of offense; political agendas; personal vendettas; historical misinterpretation; one-sided statistics… Obviously we’re here because of a photo taken during our community celebration of a historical event… I view the top half of the City logo as a historical event and not a symbol of hate… I am a licensed minister in the state of Florida… As an organization [Police Department] we refuse to be a puppet on a string to negative outside agendas or vendettas, or threats veiled as promises… the allegations lack any basis of truth… there is no substantiation of any wrongdoing by our Chief of Police or the City Manager."
Glynell Bowden – Former County NAACP President
Glynell Bowden a former City Councilman and presently an aid for Representative Corrine Brown, told the Council: I believe that sexism and chauvinism has much to do with this as anything in the world. There are people that can’t deal with an educated, intelligent black woman. I think that’s what’s driving this today… the first time in history we get a woman chief that happens to be black, she ought to resign or be fired… she took a picture and then we are going to associate her with the Confederacy and the Klan… I think what is happening here is high tech lynching. To put this picture on the Internet – a reputation has been damaged from Lake City to Miami by people who don’t even know what it means.
Chief Gilmore: "How dare you."
The first thing Chief Gilmore did was criticize representatives from both the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP for leaving without hearing all the speakers, including her. She said, "What I’m disappointed about is that the ones that came from Jacksonville and the one that came from Tallahassee and other places — you’re not here. You wanted us to hear you… why did you not give the same respect to those who wanted to talk about what we are doing here. I just think that was very disrespectful."
As Chief Gilmore’s power point presentation was being prepared, she said, "How dare someone who does not even live here come here and tell us — who we’re not and who we’re not — how dare you?"
Both Chief Gilmore and City Manager Johnson, both from out of town, moved to Lake City upon accepting employment.
The Chief continued reading from her power point, "On June 28th, members of the local and the State NAACP came to my office. They presented a picture of me. Media, this is my statement. Because I am in litigation this is my statement, so I will not be doing interviews after this. This is my statement. Okay? Are we all clear? All right."
After almost an hour and almost a hundred PowerPoint slides later, Chief Gilmore had covered just about everything that could be covered. She praised her department, lambasted the naysayers, criticized Rudolph Davis and concluded where she began. "Don’t allow external persons, who do not live here to create a racial discord in our community – nor persons with hidden agendas or persons grandstanding… We are better and stronger together."
The Chief then mentioned something about a prayer vigil and said the attorney told her not to mention it.
She concluded, "Media, please help us. I won’t say that again. Stand with me and say not in our community."
Shortly thereafter, City Councilman Ward moved for a vote of confidence for both Chief Gilmore and City Manager Johnson.
Councilman Ward said, "In light of the comments that have been made tonight, I think it is only reasonable that Council needs to answer some of these demands. I personally feel that it is unfounded."
The City Council, without one word of discussion, voted unanimously its confidence in the Chief and the City Manager and they stay in their positions.
No one on the Council mentioned the Confederate flag on the City logo.
The City Council then proceeded with the evening’s agenda. A handful of people were left.