Ithaca, N.Y. — Mayor Svante Myrick spoke with WHCU Radio’s Lee Rayburn Wednesday morning about the protesters who disrupted the city last night in the wake of the Michael Brown grand jury decision.
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Myrick again spoke of his unique position — as both a young black man and, as mayor, titular head of the police department — in trying to mend the trust gap between the two communities.
“There’s no one person, especially as someone as flawed and imperfect as I am, who can bridge this divide,” he said.
“What it will take is bringing police officers and the community together face to face so they can talk, they can meet, they can dialogue — that’s what actually changes people’s hearts and minds.”
“What I can do is not just represent one side to the other but use my convening authority as the mayor to bring both sides together so they can represent themselves.”
Myrick and Rayburn had a wide-ranging discussion, which can be heard in full here on WHCU’s website.
Here are 5 takeaways from the mayor’s interview:
1 — Myrick: Focus on the good
Myrick stressed the importance of focusing on the actions of those who attended the calmer, more contemplative candlelight vigil that preceded the furious protests and marches into the streets.
“They were able to share their feelings and they were able to talk about how we move forward in a way that was positive and productive,” Myrick said of the candlelight vigil group.
He called on the media to not hone in on the actions of those who were more disruptive.
“For us to spend too much time reacting to that reaction would again be counterproductive,” he said.
2 — Condemnation of those who disrupted traffic
Myrick criticized those who marched into intersections, created disruptions downtown and made life difficult for Ithaca police.
“I was disappointed, obviously,” he said.
Myrick again stressed that this group only constituted a small percentage of protesters.
We’ll run his full quote in full here: “I think that was the wrong reaction and I’ll tell you why. I think many of the people coming home from 8, 10, 12 hour shifts just trying to get home and take their dog out for a walk – many of those people actually agree with the pain and the anger they felt in the wake of the decision in Ferguson, but those same people were now feeling victimized by these few – and it’s not everybody – but by these handful of folks who felt that the best way to express themselves would be to lash out at their fellow Ithacans.”
3 — Why no arrests?
Given that they were blocking traffic and breaking the law, why weren’t any of the protesters arrested last night?
“In part, it’s that we recognized they’re going through pain and are angry,” Myrick said, but also that if there were mass arrests “we would only breed a reaction that would be counterproductive; a protest of 100 where everybody got arrested last night would have led to a protest of 1,000 tonight.”
4 — Mayor: Chief Barber ‘priceless’
The mayor spoke extremely highly of the Ithaca police officers and of Chief John Barber, who personally decided to drive down to the protests and speak face to face with those causing the disruptions.
“It’s not every police chief that would go out into the street and speak calmly and plainly with folks who were clearly trying to antagonize him – not to take the bait and arrest everyone but explain that what they’re doing is wrong” and hurtful to their own cause, Myrick said.
“That kind of ambassador for the police department is priceless.”
5 — Mayor sets way forward
The mayor again stressed the importance of bringing together IPD officers and members of the black community.
He called for also being sure to address “the causes of real suffering in the black community, and in the white community, and that is poverty and a lack of education and a lack of opportunity … we have to couple that work with the work we’re doing to make a better police department.”
“There are always folks who will choose division over cooperation; but when we look at our long history, in Ithaca and in the United States, we see that constructive dialogue – that means, two or more parties speaking to each other — not speaking past each other; not shouting over each other, but speaking to each other — is what helps us move forward and improve conditions. For black folks, for white folks — for all folks.”