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Chester County Press

Editorial: A Township With Its Eyes Wide Open

08/25/2020 04:05PM ● By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

In his introductory remarks before Kennett Township’s passage of a resolution on Aug. 19 that will commit the township to pursue several initiatives as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, board chairman Dr. Richard Leff read a prepared statement that he had written.

“My fellow supervisors and I sit here this evening in humble recognition that we are part of our township’s white majority, that the lenses of our eyes and the frame of our minds have been formed by our similar cultural, historical, and racially-advantaged experiences,” Leff read. “Might it be that some of our ordinances, policies and procedures harbor innocent, unintended vestiges of racial bias? I feel that if this is even a possibility, we owe it to our community to investigate and correct any inequities that arise out of our governance.”

A deferential overview of Kennett Township would suspect it to be among the last municipalities to engage in the beliefs that have captivated the millions who have joined together in towns and cities all across America and the world as one large voice set out to, in the late Sen. John Lewis’ words, “Get into good trouble.”

The facts speak for themselves. Kennett Township is among the wealthiest municipalities in Pennsylvania, and more than three-quarters of its population is white. A car ride past its beautiful homes, freshly-manicured lawns and sweeping vistas of preserved land seems a galaxy removed from the long and ugly litany of systemic racism and police brutality that has led to the murders of several black men and women.

The collective and powerful chorus of “Black Lives Matter,” heard at peaceful protests in Kennett Square and West Grove in June, is not a sound that often reverberates in Kennett Township, and there are very few ashen gray sidewalks there for a black man to have his head crushed into by the knee of a white policeman.

Upon that deferential view, it would seem to some that the township’s foray into matters such as this is little more than a frivolous sidebar of activity that has no bearing on its residents. They believe that the township is better suited now to navigate its way through the lingering stench of a major embezzlement scandal, restore its standing in the community, and continue to place its priorities in the normal and myopic governance of a township like holding the line on taxes, clearing roads and paying its bills on time.

Yet as he continued to speak, Leff introduced the township’s residents to the rest of the world.

“We need to be cognizant of the damage done to people of color far and wide when humiliating acts are committed against people who look like them,” Leff said. “Minneapolis and other big cities seem far away, but just down the road in Chadds Ford, a black man was pulled over in his driveway last year and handcuffed in front of his teenage daughter and wife. Not in our community, but just down the road.

“Can you put yourself in that man’s place?  In his wife’s or daughter’s place? Now, can you put yourself in the place of a person of color living in our township? It happened just down the road, [so] what’s to say that it couldn’t happen here?”

Dr. Leff spoke about the township’s presence as one of the most prominent points along the Underground Railroad, and its recent restoration of the historic Fussell House – which sheltered slaves on their way north toward freedom – supports this commitment.

He spoke about the diverse cultural background that forms local school districts. He spoke about interim Police Chief Matt Gordon, “who is committed to respectful, humane, and equitable enforcement of our laws,” he said, “and who has spoken out in emotional terms of the injustice of what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis and other gross discriminatory acts and abuses of power.”

He continued to dissect the argument that believes that if the atrocities that have claimed the lives of hundreds of black Americans at the hands of racism are not felt in Kennett Township, then there is no reason for the township to join the discussion.

“To those who say we have had no incidences of racial bias, I say that is no reason not to act preemptively,” Leff said. “As supervisors, we are sworn to protect the safety and well-being of all of our residents and visitors. Waiting until harm has occurred when the potential for injury has already been identified, leaves scars unnecessarily inflicted.

“Some have said that singling out black lives as mattering is unnecessary and redundant; [that] if we believe in the equality of all people, and in the value of life, then all lives and not just black lives matter. We should not have to say Black Lives Matter. Can we all not recognize the historical, sanctioned mistreatment of blacks in this country, and the dark shadow it still casts to this day?

“People of color are asking us to listen to them,” Leff said. “They are showing us the pictures of the abuse and inequities of their daily lives. They are asking us, ‘If you see us, if you feel our pain, speak up.’

“I do believe in the equality of all, and that all life matters; but in recognition of past and continued injustices against black people, I will say, “Black Lives Matter, Black lives matter, black lives matter.” And I will keep saying it until blacks and everyone are afforded the same rights and privileges that I enjoy.”

As he concluded his prepared statement, Leff assured the township’s residents that this initiative “does not make us out to be weak or flawed, [but] assures our continued growth and strength.”

This newspaper will go one step further: That by this commitment, Kennett Township has shown its resiliency to join the conversation to end systemic racism in this country. We also believe it has set the tone and established a cornerstone of action, one that every other municipality in southern Chester County should follow.

By virtue of this commitment, the governance of Kennett Township has proclaimed that the color of our skin should never dictate whether we should orchestrate justice, nor should we measure our choice to enter into the uncomfortable task of changing our nation’s course based solely on our proximity to conflict.

Kennett Township’s decision is pulled from the pages that have documented our nation’s highest achievements and have been written into our history books: Change is made possible when we remove our blinders of comfort and see for ourselves what the rest of the world is doing.