Bethlehem’s Year of Floyd (5): Reimagining Public Safety

Latest in a series of posts regarding the George Floyd anniversary

Gadfly is modestly proposing that City Council mark the anniversary of George Floyd’s death at a Public Safety meeting on May 25, 2021. A year gives us some distance on our efforts to act on the significance of his death and a perspective on the challenges it presented to the City. Gadfly continues here a quasi-history of the “Year of Floyd” as seen through his eyes and the pages of the blog. One man’s version. As always, Gadfly invites you to join in.


Gadfly approaches this final chapter of his quasi-history with great frustration.

One way to think about the City’s response to the murder of George Floyd is to think of two tracks, tracks birthed in the June 9 letter from Councilfolk Reynolds and Crampsie Smith: one track outward embodied in the creation of a Community Engagement Initiative and one track inward in an analysis of police policies and practice.

Gadfly has already suggested that the CEI in the way he understood it has not materialized, even though concept-creator Councilman Reynolds as recently as Thursday in the PBS debate speaks of it as if in operation.

If on May 25 we have a meeting to mark the George Floyd anniversary and we present a report card on our year’s work, what will we show? Join me in thinking about this:

  • Renewed emphasis on non-law enforcement interaction with the community embodied in a program Gadfly by chance has heard Chief Kott refer to as the “Neighborhood Outreach Initiative,” but a program which has not been explained in detail publicly as far as he knows: Now this is a good thing. And Gadfly hopes the program is successful. And it could be explained at the May 25 meeting. Council has been prodding the Chief in this direction, but it doesn’t seem she needs much prodding if dancing the Salsa at the Latinx Block Party is any indication. Chief Kott seems by nature a community person. This program will improve the face of the department and the interface of police and community members. But Gadfly hears an activist at the July 7 City Council meeting saying that more pizza parties won’t cut it. And he agrees.
  • More transparency on the part of the police department: This is also a good thing. We were the first department in the Valley to publish our Use of Force policy. We even published a report on the use of force. Now, again, these are good things. Gadfly also remembers a promise to produce such a report every year. But, Gadfly says, but we are still operating at the periphery. We have not yet had near enough analysis of such reports (what happened to Prof Ochs?) nor investigated other lacunae. Without implying that there is any kind of cancer at the core as we are learning about police departments in Minneapolis and other places, Gadfly feels that the death of Floyd mandated Council to do a deep review of department practice. We tend to say we “learned from our mistakes” (past Chief Diluzio referring to the Herko fiasco), that we have double accreditation, a fact so rare as to render us elite, and to talk of ourselves uncritically as one of the best departments in the state. The times require more than that rhetoric. Gadfly, who had more time to binge-watch the Chauvin trial than most, remembers the talking heads saying over and over again that eyes must be put on police practice on at least three crucial points: recruiting/hiring, training, internal affairs/disorderly conduct. We need to do that. Gadfly remembers Chief Diluzio responding to a question by saying that he has fired officers, as if simply saying that satisfied our desire for assurance that there is a process to weed out the bad seeds. Gadfly remembers Councilman Callahan asking (rather sheepishly, in fact — not the forceful tone he is able to mount) Chief Kott about training at the March 2 Public Safety meeting and receiving in reply a vague general answer of self-assurance that training is ok (min. 1:05:40). We need more than that. Gadfly has no explicit sense of what training and how much our officers receive. We need to know that in detail.
  • A pilot program linking the police department with the Health Bureau (ha! as if the Health Bureau hasn’t had enough to do during the pandemic): Now this is the third good thing we could say at a May 25 meeting to mark Floyd’s death. And the pilot will be in operation about six months then, a ripe time for a preliminary status report. But Gadfly has to say frankly that this program doesn’t seem much in the way of a response to the tragedy. In announcing the pilot program, the Mayor bally-hoo’d it pretty well: the City, he said, has “learned from reflection” and is engaging in “re-investment in our community.” But, frankly, Gadfly was not much impressed by the reflection or the investment. The program seems to be funded by freebies and reassignments. Gadfly didn’t see much re-investment. He didn’t sense strain or painful re-allocation. And the program, good as it is, and certainly we hope it is successful, does not at all confront head on what Gadfly sees is the more pressing problem — which is the tragedies that actually often occur and which Gadfly has chronicled in detail in these pages when police make “first contact” with a person in an active episode of mental health distress. The pilot program encourages an officer to refer a person he or she identifies as needing help to a mental health specialist, good, but what we also need is training for officers who are called to a home, say, where a person in crisis with a gun has locked himself in a bedroom. Or maybe we shouldn’t send an officer at those times. While officer referral might lessen the possibility that such encounters occur, we need to focus on how to handle a “hot” situation. Public Safety chair Colon indicated that we would have a meeting early in the new year, in January, on such things and those mentioned in the above bullet. But that never happened.

Gadfly is going on too long.

But he must say that when he writes the full history of the City, there is so much more that he will want to go in to:

  • The Gordian knot needing an Alexander that kept us from getting a Public Safety meeting till 2 1/2 months after May 25
  • A Back the Blue rally before a Council meeting
  • The duel between Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance and Lehigh Valley Stands Up, petitions and otherwise
  • LVGNA’s claim to victory
  • LVGNA’s lack of substantive value and probably actual detriment to the conversation
  • How we could only manage 2 Public Safety committee meetings related to this subject in a year
  • Chief Diluzio!
  • Prof Ochs as MIA
  • the lack of a budget discussion when it was kinda promised
  • great, great participation at meetings on 7/7 and 8/11
  • but then the seeming lack of effect and impact of that great participation at both meetings

Well, time to end this 5-part virtual prospectus for a full-fledged history of Bethlehem’s “Year of Floyd.”

Gadfly’s cranky. (Nothing new, you say.)

His anthems were:

Reynolds: “I think we do have an opportunity in the coming weeks and months to make tangible progress on ending systemic racism and creating more equitable systems.”

Smith: “I’m here because I believe that we are at an important moment in our community’s history, and we have an opportunity to do something truly momentous.”

Not much to show.

But he’ll keep singing.

Let’s have that May 25 meeting and kick ourselves in the butt.

Bethlehem’s Year of Floyd (4): The Community Engagement Initiative

Latest in a series of posts regarding the George Floyd anniversary

Gadfly is modestly proposing that City Council mark the anniversary of George Floyd’s death at a Public Safety meeting on May 25, 2021. A year gives us some distance on our efforts to act on the significance of his death and a perspective on the challenges it presented to the City. Gadfly continues here a quasi-history of the “Year of Floyd” as seen through his eyes and the pages of the blog. One man’s version. As always, Gadfly invites you to join in.


The Community Engagement Initiative is a wonderful idea.

Gadfly called it “audaciously ambitious.”

The CEI sponsored by Councilmembers Reynolds and Crampsie Smith generated the most powerful rhetoric of the past year or even of any year.

It was rhetoric that matched the dark profundity of the Floyd killing. It challenged us in a particularly American way to weld together, renew our dream of democratic community, and take positive action.

Listen to Councilman Reynolds here at the June 16 Council meeting, for instance, in one of the first articulations of the nature and goals of the CEI: the people need a consistent public space for our different community groups to discuss and take action on systemic racism, discrimination, social justice, allocation of resources within the police department, he said.

How about that very next Council meeting, July 7, when the resolution to form the CEI was up for a vote? The community was indeed engaged. Though we were in the pandemic, a handful of honest-to-god real activists were in Town Hall with Councilman Reynolds and President Waldron while the rest of us were in television land. And they were not happy. They were broiling for action, action of another sort. They called for defunding and dismantling the police. They saw the CEI as appeasement, as pacification, as a public relations ploy, as a band-aid, as a joke. They saw the proposed community discussions as belated — the conversation had been going on for years but no one (read elected officials) was listening. The CEI to them meant more cop-sponsored pizza parties. They complained of lack of representation by people of color.

The response from the ten or so callers on that July 7 to the idea of a CEI was not a helluva lot better than that of the activists. The reporter who covered the meeting, in fact, described the public response as “lukewarm at best.” The absolutely most memorable call, however, was Anna Smith’s, and her words that “we have an opportunity to do something truly momentous” became Gadfly’s anthem, perfectly capturing the spirit of radiant optimism that informed the conception of the CEI: “I’m here because I believe that we are at an important moment in our community’s history, and we have an opportunity to do something truly momentous. But unless we focus on doing it the right way—by relying on experts in our community to provide advice, supporting community members with deep neighborhood ties to lead the charge, and taking the time to build relationships not with other organizations or the usual suspects, but with the very folks that are marginalized—then we are doomed to another series of community meetings where the same folks talk, the same folks listen, and nothing changes.”

This was not to be a moment of the same old, same old. What Gadfly heard in the Reynolds words and the Smith words was the goal of change, productive change, radical change, transformative change.

So Councilman Reynolds, undaunted, sat in Town Hall July 7 face-to-face with the activists and gave an enthralling description of the CEI: he was looking to found an open public structure in which the energy of the demonstrations would continue. The CEI would be open-ended; “we” weren’t going to set the agenda. The goal was to create public pressure to bring about real change. The goal was to give people who have ideas about what we need to do access to power and a voice to wield it. CEI co-sponsor Councilwoman Crampsie Smith added a sincere, powerful pledge of complete commitment to the high goals of the CEI: “we can work together to try to make changes . . . in all areas. Even though I do have white privilege, I have, and I will continue to advocate for people of color, people living in poverty, people who have mental illness, addictions, you name it, I will continue to advocate till the day I die.” We who know the Councilwoman believe it.

The resolution to establish the CEI passed 7-0 at that July 7 City Council meeting. We expected things to start percolating immediately. But the oxygen was seemingly taken out of the CEI thrust by the announcement of a Public Safety meeting for August 11. Discussion of public safety and of the creation of a CEI were married from the beginning in the June 9 letter from Councilmembers Reynolds and Crampsie Smith to the mayor and police chief, but they are really two different tracks. Discussion of the police went first at the marathon August 11 Public Safety meeting, but time was given to the CEI at the end. It was at this August 11 Public Safety Committee meeting that Councilman Reynolds gave his fullest and most vigorous explanation of the CEI. You must listen. Here’s Gadfly’s response to the Councilman’s words: “Councilman Reynolds is at his rousing best here. Worth listening and catching his energy and enthusiasm. ‘That was beautiful,’ said Councilwoman Negron of his words, ‘you get it!’ Community engagement is, of course, synonymous with Gadfly’s mission. The Reynolds/Crampsie Smith Community Engagement Initiative is audaciously ambitious. Catch the wave!” It is in this speech that Councilman Reynolds said that Black and Brown lives matter, that systemic racism is real, it’s the speech where he envisioned two types of regular CEI meetings, meetings that would be advertised on the City web site, meetings organized by the City and meetings organized by community groups and organizations, a speech in which he said (good god! did he really say this! Is Gadfly the only one who heard it?), “I think we do have an opportunity in the coming weeks and months to make tangible progress on ending systemic racism and creating more equitable systems.”

Oh, only tangible progress on ending systemic racism and creating more equitable systems.

A cultural moment in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Christmas City when in Smith-speech we have an opportunity to do something truly momentous.

A goal to make your temples throb, your palms sweat, and your loins leap.

Gadfly began to think not only of a new brand for Bethlehem but a new reality.

George Floyd’s death, Gadfly wrote, “put a fire in Councilman Reynolds’ belly.”

Gadfly became a Reynolds groupie.

Gadfly waited for the wave.

But that was August 11.

Later in the year Gadfly titled a post “looking for the wave.”

As far as Gadfly can see (what is he missing?), the CEI has disappeared from our radar screens and our vocabulary.

Gadfly is just not sure what happened to it; Gadfly is just not sure where that energy, idealism, and rhetorical force went.

Systemic racism is still here.

Was it the pandemic? The DiLuzio fiasco? The noise generated by the Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance? What?

What was it?

Gadfly can’t remember hearing the phrase “Community Engagement Initiative” anymore.

He misses it.

He’s afraid the momentum, the wave has passed.

If we have that meeting on May 25 to mark the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, maybe we could assess what happened, recalibrate, and resume the journey to the Equitable City once more.


to be continued . . .

Bethlehem’s Year of Floyd (3): The NAACP Community Advisory Board

Latest in a series of posts regarding the George Floyd anniversary

Gadfly is modestly proposing that City Council mark the anniversary of George Floyd’s death at a Public Safety meeting on May 25, 2021. A year gives us some distance on our efforts to act on the significance of his death and a perspective on the challenges it presented to the City. Gadfly continues here a quasi-history of the “Year of Floyd” as seen through his eyes and the pages of the blog. One man’s version. As always, Gadfly invites you to join in.


We ended the last post wondering if strong words by several members of City Council at the June 2, 2020, meeting, 8 days after George Floyd’s death, would result in some action.

It did.

  • Before the June 16 City Council meeting, Councilpersons Reynolds and Crampsie Smith sent a memo to Chief Diluzio regarding publication of the department’s Use of Force policy and setting up a Community Engagement Initiative within the department.
  • The Mayor and the Chief responded in the affirmative.
  • And there was some preliminary discussion of these matters at the June 16 City Council meeting.

The first concrete action, however, came not from the City but the NAACP.

At the June 16 meeting the Mayor announced that the City would work with the NAACP in its desire to form what would be called a Community Advisory Board: “NAACP vigil representatives from the local chapter of the NAACP, the Mayor, the Police Chief, the Deputy Chief and the President of the FOP met with the leaders of the NAACP to discuss police community issues. It was agreed that a citizen’s advisory committee, a suggestion of NAACP President Esther Lee, be comprised of community leaders would be established to address police and community issues. There would be community leaders from education, healthcare, social agencies, etc. and we all hope and agree to do a press release and a mission statement next week. Mayor Donchez reported that Ms. Lee feels very strongly from her leadership role and from the national organization and the local chapter of the NAACP that this is something she wants to be involved in. We certainly want to work with her and be part of the citizen’s advisory committee.”

In a newspaper article on July 8, we find:

On Monday, the creation of a 21-member NAACP community advisory board was announced. The board will meet monthly to review Bethlehem’s law enforcement policies, including use of force, police training and transparency. There will also be discussions about how race affects other issues like health, housing and education.

The new community advisory board was created on the advice of the national NAACP, which directed its local chapters to meet with police, said Esther Lee, the longtime president of the Bethlehem NAACP. The board includes Mayor Robert Donchez, members of City Council, the Bethlehem Police Department, Bethlehem Health Department, clergy, students, members of the Bethlehem NAACP, Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure and Bethlehem Area School Superintendent Joseph Roy.

“Our desire is to initiate immediate change for encouraging transparency, accountability and effective communication that will stabilize the climate of the Bethlehem community and adjacent communities which are needed in these tumultuous times,” Lee said.

Rallies across the country and calls for police reform were sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the deaths in recent years of other unarmed Black men across the country at the hands of police. While there haven’t been such occurrences in Bethlehem, Lee said members of the local NAACP felt they should come forward to discuss issues of social justice reform with leaders in the community.

“I’ve been here all my life. I think it’s time for us to come together, sit at the table and come to an agreement on how we can make life a little better,” she said. Donchez said the group has met three times since June 15 and will meet again Monday [July 12]. His goal is to release a community report on some of the initiatives discussed. Last month, the city was the first in the Lehigh Valley to release its police department’s use-of-force policy.

This CAB sounds like such a good idea.

Gadfly could be wrong, but he is not sure anything has ever been made public about the CAB’s doings, now entering its 11th month of operation.

He knows the CAB is functioning, since a Councilwoman recently remarked that she’s on a CAB homelessness sub-committee — which sounds like a great thing that we’d all like to know more about.

As far as Gadfly knows, membership on the CAB was never announced. He had to wheedle it out of a mole in the city bureaucracy. Representation by Black Lives Matters and such organizations were noticeably absent from the membership list. Which is curious.

Gadfly tried to get info on the CAB by filing a right-to-know request, but he was rebuffed because the CAB is not a City entity but “belongs” to the NAACP. Gadfly sees nothing about it on the local NAACP website or Facebook page.

Wouldn’t a meeting to mark the May 25 anniversary of the murder of George Floyd be a good time to ask the NAACP to report to the City on what the CAB has done, is doing, and plans to do? And whether City involvement has been fruitful and productive.

To Gadfly, the silence seems very strange.

to be continued . . .

Bethlehem’s Year of Floyd (2): Council deploys

Latest in a series of posts regarding the George Floyd anniversary

Gadfly is modestly proposing that City Council mark the anniversary of George Floyd’s death at a Public Safety meeting on May 25, 2021. A year gives us some distance on our efforts to act on the significance of his death and a perspective on the challenges it presented to the City. Gadfly continues here a quasi-history of the “Year of Floyd” as seen through his eyes and the pages of the blog. One man’s version. As always, Gadfly invites you to join in.


The June 2 City Council meeting at which Chief Diluzio made his “George Floyd’s Death & Policing in America” presentation was 8 days after the murder of George Floyd. Bethlehem had seen a peaceful demonstration 3 days before. Peaceful but certainly angry.

Several Council members were there on May 30 to witness and no doubt to participate in the anger, and all members shared such messages addressed to Council calling for local action as “During the next budgetary assessment, the City of Bethlehem needs to defund policing and allocate this funding to Health services, Public Housing, and Education,” “We are contacting you again to demand immediate action,” “I am emailing to demand the restructuring of the Bethlehem city budget in a way that prioritizes social services for communities and drastically minimizes spending on police,” and “WILL YOU ask the “affected” what THEY need?”

The Mayor and the Chief had stated their relatively inactive positions, now what would Council do?

Would they, in Gadfly’s view, rise to the occasion, respond in kind to the uncoiling significance of Floyd’s murder and the demand for meaningful action?

Each Council member spoke at that June 2 meeting.

President Waldron’s focus was solely on the model non-escalating behavior by our police department in ensuring a peaceful protest and ensuring the First Amendment rights of the protestors. The police acted with such  “restraint” and “respect,” said President Waldron, that “not a single incident . . . happened within that large rally last Saturday.”

Councilman Callahan likewise echoed praise for the police doing “a heckuva job” but moved a bit beyond that to action, by which, however, he meant only sending “some type of resolution to the state . . . our state senators, our United States senators,” and by “going out and voting.”

Frankly, Gadfly was most surprised, most disappointed by Councilman Colon — from a diverse Puerto Rican/African American family with a life experience no doubt different from almost every one else on Council — who was satisfied hearing that the police department was up to snuff, who’s “using this time to listen” (a term he repeats 4 times) and keeping “the dialog going” (what new in regard to racism could he expect to hear at this point in our history?), who sees change as “incremental,” and who seemingly sees very little role for Bethlehem in taking the lead in fostering change. Councilman Colon’s response simply seemed too low energy for Gadfly given the rather tumultuous events spreading around the country and, indeed, the world. (Councilman Colon is chair of the Public Safety Committee, and Gadfly will have occasion later to link this low key attitude to the operation of that committee.)

Thankfully, in Gadfly’s opinion, the remaining four Councilpeople significantly raised the level of conversation.

Councilwoman Van Wirt immediately smoked the Mayor and Chief for failing to indict systemic racism not only in Minneapolis but also here in Bethlehem as well. The Councilwoman charges them “to do something,” that is, “to look at our own city and address economic and social racism where it exists.” Bingo! Councilwoman Van Wirt reads a letter originally posted on Gadfly from resident Breena Holland — the hard-edged, no nonsense kind of letter we’re used to from her –in which she calls out the Mayor and Chief for words that “are not that meaningful unless they get turned into action.” If the Mayor and Chief “can pretend [racism] does not exist locally” and only “condemn what happened to George Floyd for the brutal inhumanity it displayed, . . . then they are part of the problem.”

Now we’re cookin’, feels the Gadfly.

If we — the imperial white “we” — are going to help the “other,” are going to actively help the other, what do we most need? Perhaps empathy is the key trait. The ever heart-felt Councilwoman Crampsie Smith does a clinic on empathy: “it is really important for us to reconcile with the fact that people of color are deeply and profoundly hurt and that hurt is manifesting itself as anger. Can we blame them? Absolutely not. I would not be in this position of councilmember if it were not for my dear friends of color. I am blessed every day to see the gifts, talents, and dignity of my wonderful students of color. My heart is broken for them and for our country. As a mother you live with many fears regarding your children’s well being. I thank God my twenty-year-old son is white, for his safety is greater than his friends of color. And that is truly wrong. My heart breaks for the parents of children of color, for I cannot fathom the fear they live with each and every day. Their fears are above and beyond what any parents’ fears ever should be.” So personal, so powerful. And where does the Councilwoman end up? With the magic words. Anti-racism. “We must insure that we are not not just against racism, but that we are anti-racist, we are inclusive, and we always strive to insure justice for all.”

Anti-racism. Bethlehem as an anti-racist city. Now we’re talkin’.

Gadfly remembers remarking during public comment one meeting that Councilman Reynolds is the loudest of the Councilmembers. With his commanding voice and machine-gun delivery, he can make you sweat. Councilman Reynolds picks up on the need for empathy, describing what he has learned from his students. He picks up on the need for anti-racism: “there’s also a difference between not doing something wrong and doing what’s right. And I think that’s part of the conversation we need to have in the city. . . . It is not even enough just to say that we can have peaceful demonstrations here. It’s gonna be enough when people that are in marginalized communities are able to look at us as our elected officials and look at things we’ve done and say, you know what, they made things better, they made things more inclusive, they gave power to people that didn’t have power before.” With the statements by the Mayor and the Chief as the implied point of reference, the Councilman says, “it’s just not enough to be against racism, but we need to pro-actively be anti-racist. ”

Anti-racism again. For most individuals and institutions, that means a complete 180-degree re-orientation in attitude and behavior. And a risky re-orientation at that.

We end our survey of Council responses at this June 2, 2020, meeting with a dose of reality. We end with Councilwoman Negron. We don’t need a resolution, she says. We don’t need a “magic pill.” We know the problem, we just ignore it. It’s simple. Simply do justice, something we all know. Simply do justice. Here’s the bitter truth. Here’s speaking truth to power. “Your brown and black constituents are being right now, every day treated in an unjust way. . . . the injustice exists. And there’s no way for anybody to say otherwise.” The Councilwoman herself feels at times “intimidated, afraid.” Then come the words “we” don’t want to hear: “Liberty and justice for all. Really? Justice for all. Justice for all as long as you have light skin, gold hair, and blue eyes. Because if you don’t, there’s no such a thing in here as justice for all.”

Words far from those of the Mayor and the Chief. Words that should move us to action.

Will they?

to be continued . . .

Bethlehem’s Year of Floyd (1): The Mayor and Chief get out in front

Latest in a series of posts regarding the George Floyd anniversary

ref: Let’s meaningfully remember George Floyd on the anniversary of his death
ref: Mayor Donchez: “We in Bethlehem must condemn acts of violence and hatred”
ref: Chief DiLuzio: “We as police officers condemn what happened to Mr. Floyd”

Gadfly is modestly proposing that City Council mark the anniversary of George Floyd’s death at a Public Safety meeting on May 25, 2021. A year gives us some distance on our efforts to act on the significance of his death and a perspective on the challenges it presented to the City. Gadfly herewith begins a quasi-history of the “Year of Floyd” as seen through the pages of the blog. One man’s version. Join in.


George Floyd died Monday, May 25, 2020. Turmoil started virtually immediately and spread throughout the country. There was a large peaceful demonstration here radiating from the Rose Garden to Payrow Plaza on Saturday May 30. Mayor Donchez’s statement appeared on the City web site Sunday May 31 (it is no longer there) and in the Morning Call Wednesday June 3. Chief DiLuzio delivered his statement at the City Council meeting Tuesday June 2.

We begin our quasi-history with the statements by Mayor Donchez and Police Chief DiLuzio representing the City’s official response to the tragedy of Floyd’s death and the ongoing societal disruption that followed.

The Mayor and the Chief are clearly and understandably worried about the spread of disruption to Bethlehem.

They are also concerned with distancing themselves and our City from the blatant evil of the murder and its racial dimension.

A pantheon of Jefferson, Jesus, King, Kennedy, Ben Franklin, and Edmund Burke are invoked.

Horror, condemnation, outrage, sadness, shock, disgust, repulsion, pain, and righteousness are expressed.

Both men protest that their hands and the hands of their City are clean.

The Mayor remembers the “melting pot” utopia in the South Bethlehem of his youth “where there was no room for racism, bigotry, and intolerance.” He replicated that utopia in the classroom during his career at Allen High School “where he made sure [his] students were tolerant of all who attended . . . Black and White, Latino and Asian, Gay and Straight, Male, Female and Transgender [?], Rich and Poor, and all who made up the city, the Lehigh Valley and the country.” In present-day Bethlehem, the Mayor says, “we are one.”

The Chief is personally horrified and outraged at what he sees. And there is no blue wall in his department: “We as police officers condemn what happened to Mr. Floyd. . . . What the four Officers did was wrong. What Officer Derek Chauvin did was criminal.” The Chief and his officers ensured peaceful protest in our town, felt unity with the protestors. And he runs a diverse department accredited both by the state and nationally (a dual accreditation that only 4% of departments have), in which training is continuous, in which everyone agrees “that a properly trained officer would never use this type of force under the circumstances.”

The Chief oversees a departmental micro-utopia analogous to the Mayor’s urban macro-one.

Gadfly called these statements by the Mayor and the Chief powerful statements at the time, for which he received some significant push-back.

He was glad the Mayor and Chief recognized the need to speak up, to get out in front.

But the limitation in their words becomes even more obvious from the distance of almost a year.

Ironically, that limitation is pellucid in the Chief’s choice of words from Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Neither the Mayor nor the Chief point to anything specific to do, point to anything that needs to be done locally, articulate any action that we good people (or they) in Bethlehem should take.

Again, “We are one,” says the Mayor, triumphantly but perhaps complacently.

As if nothing of the Floyd sort and its aftermath would/could happen here.

As if we had no “work” to do in “reckoning with race.”

There is a sense of self-satisfaction in their words, a sense that they speak from a kind of moral elevation or eminence.

Gadfly is a generation older than the Mayor, but it looks like we were both raised on the same mythic conception of America as a melting pot. However, there are few American literature and history courses these days that would frame our country that way without also posing a powerful counter-narrative. We have come to understand that the myth of the melting pot is a myth that serves white privilege and also is a way to blame minorities who don’t succeed. Likewise, proclaiming, as he does in his recent state of the city address, that the “American Dream,” another American cultural myth, is “thriving here” is tricky. Gadfly remembers statistics about low incomes on the Southside and low rates of home ownership on the Southside (home ownership traditionally seen as a stepping stone to achievement of the American Dream) discussed right here on this blog lately and wonders if this would be the kind of thing the Mayor could say if he gave his address in the auditorium at Donegan. Gadfly also remembers the oft-repeated words of our younger Allen High School Councilman about the need to see ourselves and our city through the eyes of the cultural “other.” That “Canary” has indicated that the view would be disillusioning.

So, as understandable as these statements by the Mayor and Chief and their purposes might be, Gadfly feels our “Year of Floyd” didn’t get off to the best possible start.

to be continued . . .

Let’s meaningfully remember George Floyd on the anniversary of his death

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

“No one should be above the law, and today’s verdict sends that message. . . . But it’s not enough. It can’t stop here. In order to deliver real change and reform, we can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen again. . . . We can’t leave this moment or look away thinking our work is done. We have a chance to begin to change the trajectory in this country.”
President Biden

“We are at the beginning of the Ice Age, if you will, and unless policing is prepared to evolve, it will become extinct. Unless policing is prepared to move toward a more restorative, transformative justice model, it will be replaced. They have to be fully prepared to start walking back from what was the policing model of the 20th and the 19th century to a public safety model, and to move toward a holistic model, a more comprehensive public safety model that respects the sanctity of human life.”
Marq Claxton, Black Law Enforcement Alliance

Gadfly would like to make a modest proposal, a modest suggestion.

Gadfly would like to propose that the City mark the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020.

Such marking could take place at the City Council meeting on May 19 or June 2.

But better yet would be a special meeting devoted solely to marking Floyd’s death, such as, perhaps, a meeting of the Public Safety Committee on May 25.

We need a meeting where we have enough time and space to breathe.

Derek Chauvin is guilty in the death of George Floyd. Guilty three times over.

But we can’t think of that verdict as the end to the GeorgeFloyd chapter of American racial history. We still have work to do.

George Floyd’s death plunged the country into (yet another) national reckoning with race.

George Floyd’s murder challenged us as individuals and institutions 1) to be anti-racist (a new term for many of us), and 2) to reimagine how we do public safety.

George Floyd’s fate challenged us to work seriously on some of the most deeply rooted problems in our society.

May 25, 2021, will be a ceremonial day across the nation. People and entities are announcing gatherings of various sorts. We need to be among them.

We need to mark the GeorgeFloyd anniversary in two ways: 1) we need to take stock of how we have met those challenges, we need to gauge how productively we have spent the year in this regard, and we need to give ourselves a candid report card, and 2) we need to set some plans and goals for the future.

What do we have to show for the year?

Frankly, if Gadfly were to give a grade for how we have spent the year in this area, it would not be a good one.

He recognizes that there has been a transition in Police Department leadership. He is aware of the argument that there are good intentions in the police department and that we need to wait for the department to establish a new direction under a new leader. He understands that argument, has seen a reorganization plan, and recognizes through social media the department moving in positive directions. But Blacks have been waiting for justice for six centuries, have been waiting since Gomes Eanes de Zurara inaugurated racial ideas in Western Culture in his 1453 defense of African slave-trading, The Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea.***

The waiting argument falls on deaf ears.

Women have been asked to wait — for the right to vote, for reproductive autonomy, for equal pay. How has that worked out for them?

Blacks, all people of color have been asked to wait. Be patient. The arc of the universe bends toward justice. We’re working on it.

Sorry, we have to do better than that. We have to get our butts movin’.

Now during the past year there was for a while a pocket of political resistance to any change in policing. Gadfly wonders if that has had impact on our willingness to act, especially in an election year. He hopes not, for echoing the quote above by a Black law enforcement spokesman, Gadfly believes that those voices are more and more clearly on the wrong side of history.

Gadfly believes public safety is going to change substantially.

And he would like to see Bethlehem in the forefront of that change.

Let’s use the Floyd anniversary to re-energize.

(Over the next few days, Gadfly will review local Floyd doings over the year.)


***Knowledge of the history of racism thanks to a powerful anti-racism program sponsored by the Bethlehem Area Public Library.