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Chester County Press

Supervisors Commit Township to Support Black Lives Matter Initiatives

08/25/2020 04:09PM ● By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
Before over 40 attendees who watched online, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors voted unanimously at their Aug. 19 meeting to enter the township into a firm commitment to support the Black Lives Matter movement, in the form of four initiatives that will engage how the township governs and how its police department operates.

The action items are:

  1. To conduct a review of all existing policies to ensure they are antiracist and that all policies to be developed are also antiracist and not developed to serve only those with privilege.
  2. To conduct annual diversity training with a focus on confronting direct and indirect racism.
  3. To explore and implement tools and resources within the Kennett Township Police Department to enhance emergency service delivery in times of crisis for all persons.
  4. When policies fail, Kennett Township will wholeheartedly and enthusiastically start over and seek out new and more effective antiracist policies until they work.

Board Chairman Dr. Richard Leff, who worked with Township Manager Eden Ratliff to create the action plans, said that the township has already received public input on the resolution, which will lead not only to the formation of these plans, but to periodic reviews of the plans that will be shared and discussed with township residents in the future.

“As I paid attention to other resolutions that are being considered in other municipalities, there was some discussion of ‘A resolution is great, but if there are no action plans, what’s really going to change?’” Leff said. “We are trying to work through these action items for a final resolution.”

As stated in the resolution, the township acknowledges the Black Lives Matter movement; recognizes that systems of oppression such as slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow, redlining and mass incarceration continue to affect the physical and mental health, safety, and education of African Americans; acknowledges that recent incidents such as the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery “remind us that police brutality and disregard for black people’s lives has caused the loss of numerous lives for no reason other than racist biases; and that it strives to be a welcoming place where all people feel protected.

“Kennett Township strives to be a welcoming place where all people feel protected, included, secure and safe,” the resolution stated. “The Kennett Township Board of Supervisors stands in solidarity with the black community, and strive to hold our township departments and ourselves to the only standard that will begin to protect all of us -- one of equality and justice that embraces all people, not just those with the most privilege.

Reading from a prepared statement he wrote, Leff introduced the public discussion by saying, “Now is a time that requires action, for we cannot be inactive and address this issue. 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.

“Might it be that some of our ordinances, policies and procedures harbor innocent, unintended vestiges of racial bias?” he added. “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.”

Supervisor Stevens supported Leff’s comments, and said that the township’s resolution “pulls much of the discussion into the open and out of shadows, which is really what this is all about. It’s getting these issues in front of us so that we can know what’s going on. We cannot hide from that truth. I say that in a time when for awhile now, this country has been immersed in hatred. We need to confront the hatred. We need to go back to the point where we had respect and love for each other.

“The reality is, ‘Why do we need to do it?’ Because this country is a racist country,” Stevens added. “Its DNA going back to 1609 has been based on segregation and denigrating one human being for the betterment of another. This is all economic, and this is a way of holding down and taking advantage of labor for the betterment of those who have the power to be able to do it.

‘Silence doesn’t work’

“This is where our DNA comes to the surface, and we have to recognize it and hold it up to the light, and say her name and keep it open an up front…Silence doesn’t work. We have to speak it. We have to identify it. We have to live with it. We have to embrace the hardship of it, and it is only when we do that, that we begin to disarm it.”

While public comments during the discussion generally expressed support of the resolution, one resident criticized the township, claiming that the resolution was an example of “identity politics, race bating, political correctness and white guilt.”

“[The township’s] well-documented, negligent governance and oversight over the past several years should be your focus rather than on other matters,” the resident wrote. “This strikes me as misdirection, diversion and wagging the dog that adds to the carnival atmosphere of the township.”

In his response, Leff reflected on his earlier written statement, when he said that “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.”

Leff then further responded the township residents who are opposed to the resolution.

“There is enough momentum and enough information out there that every government entity in the United States should be taking a look at what they are doing and what they are not doing,” he said. “Since Kennett Township is part of the United States, I felt it was incumbent upon us to do so.

“Are we perfect? Probably not, but I think we’re pretty good, but I’d like to get us better.”

“I want to make sure that everybody knows that we take this seriously, and that we’re taking steps to make sure that we’re performing every governmental function in an unbiased and fair manner,” said Supervisor Whitney Hoffman. “It’s to make sure that everybody is well trained and that we’re doing everything we can. It’s very good business practice but it’s very good community practice, and everybody, no matter who they are, should feel incredibly comfortable coming to their local government to have their concerns or issues addressed.”

The resolution was originated and proposed by attorney Anton Andrew, who is also a Democratic candidate for the Pa. House of Representatives’ 160th District, which includes Kennett Square and Kennett, Pennsbury and Pocopson townships.

“The necessity -- the imperative -- to end racism in our nation is self-evident, as our founding fathers wrote, in that all of us are created equal,” he said. “At the end of our Pledge of Allegiance, we end with ‘liberty and justice for all.’ That is something that people across the entire spectrum of this country share a consensus about. Those are our guiding principles.

“And yet, we have yet to achieve those goals, especially as it pertains to people of color in our country. Racism and injustice persist and permeate our country, our commonwealth, and our communities, including here in my beloved Kennett Square.”

Andrew said he was encouraged by the township’s support of the resolution.

“It acknowledges that like every other municipality, it has work to do to identify racism, and it commits the township to that task,” he said. “This is not a political issue. This is a human rights issue. By taking this vision forward, it proves that [Kennett Township is] truly trying to make America hold to its original policy of ‘freedom and justice for all.’”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].