Opinion/Editorial: Councilor should speak up now to calm raging fire
The Daily Progress
Aug 10, 2017
Lee Park, as it was then known, and the Robert E. Lee equestrian statue have existed peacefully in downtown Charlottesville for over 90 years. Reports in The Daily Progress from its beginning reflect civic pride.
While recently some have stated their aversion to the park and the alleged white supremacy it represents, we also observe that on non-demonstration days the park remains much the same as ever: popular with others, whether townspeople or patrons of the nearby churches and their soup kitchens.
On demonstration days, when the media’s watching, it has become an epicenter for civil unrest, racial and political hatred, and intolerance.
How did we get here?
We observe that the feelings of a majority of our community lie somewhere between the impassioned protesters presented in the news — Ku Klux Klan on one side, Standing Up for Racial Justice on the other. We listen and watch as citizens shake their heads, wring their hands and express remorse that this issue — racial, historical, social and economic — is centered on Charlottesville, our university town, which is at once progressive and quaint. The park and its former namesake symbol have become a battleground of anger and fear and resentment for the whole world to see.
How did we get here?
That question is perhaps most simply answered by the action of Councilor Wes Bellamy — the same city councilor who, as a candidate, visited this newspaper in 2015 and stated that he intended to be a leader who would build bridges in the community.
He also touted that goal in his public campaign statements: “It’s time to break down the barriers of this community and move forward collectively,” he said in Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2015 Voter Guide.
But when he led a demonstration in Lee Park in March 2016, he didn’t build a bridge, he dropped a match onto a gas field.
What did he do next? He led a protest against Douglas Muir’s restaurant, Bella, in retaliation for Mr. Muir’s interpretation of the message delivered the previous night at the Paramount Theater by the founder of Black Lives Matter.
“Reasonable” is one interpretation of BLM’s philosophy as expressed that night; “radical” is another. But Mr. Muir’s interpretation — like that of the observer of Lee’s statue — is his civil right. And that freedom is what we should fight to protect.
But Mr. Bellamy organized a march to picket a private business. What exactly is, or was, his crusade? We interpret it to have been a political one.
After Mr. Bellamy dropped his matches, what happened?
He attracted the attention of a now dedicated foe, Jason Kessler, who uncovered racist, sexist and homophobic tweets that Mr. Bellamy had made from 2009 to 2014. In the ensuing uproar over his fitness as a leader, Mr. Bellamy resigned his teaching position at Albemarle High School as well as his seat on the Virginia Board of Education, although he retains his city councilor seat.
Meanwhile, having dropped his matches, Mr. Bellamy is largely responsible for a conflagration that continues to escalate. And we see no sign that he is attempting to use his influence to mitigate the damage.
The man who once said he wanted to build bridges, but who instead became an outspoken agitator, has changed in yet another transformation into a relatively reserved city councilor. He now appears to speak out no more, no less than do his fellow councilors (most of whom, for that matter, have been fairly quiet recently on the risks now facing the city).
In one respect, that’s a constructive development. It was Mr. Bellamy’s brash behavior and ill-considered words that caused his earlier troubles — his failure to act as a city councilor should when last year he chose to protest one of the city’s own businesses, and the tweets that he shared earlier in the decade that called into question his maturity and wisdom.
Perhaps he has learned some wisdom and acquired some maturity. The very hard school of real life that he has been forced to attend recently may have something to do with that.
But if so, we would hope that Mr. Bellamy would use this wisdom now to try control the conflagration he helped start. Being silent in the face of the problems now facing Charlottesville, with the city a potential target for violence and destruction, is not the hallmark of leadership.
We are more than disappointed when a leader abandons that role and leaves civil unrest and economic cost to burn while he watches. We interpret that to be unacceptable political service.
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