Savannah’s City Sq. Weblog shares insights into the most important tales of 2020

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Protests against the assassination of George Floyd have brought racial relations to the fore in America.

Editor’s Note: These blog excerpts were originally posted on Savannah’s Town Square, a Facebook group page maintained by the editorial page editor, Adam Van Brimmer. He selected these posts as his favorites for 2020. To join the group, go to facebook.com and search for “Savannah’s Town Square”.

Discussion Topic: Law Enforcement Mentality (posted June 2, 2020)

Of all the troubling elements surrounding George Floyd’s death by a Minneapolis police officer, one thing particularly struck me: the unemotional, almost inhuman demeanor of the policeman who supplanted Floyd’s life. Also the reactions or the lack of reactions shown by the other officers on the spot.

Police work can certainly desensitize men and women. They deal with acts of violence and violations every day, often with the risk of injury or death. But it is the inability – or unwillingness – of some of them, like Derek Chauvin, to see boundaries or to know when excessive violence or restraint is no longer necessary, which is scary.

We can argue about whether Floyd and the police should be in a physical altercation at all. But there is no debate that once Floyd was subdued, Chauvin should have removed his knee from Floyd’s neck. And that the other officials on site should have encouraged their colleagues in this regard.

Another disturbing part of Chauvin and the other officers’ actions was their disregard of possible consequences. Viewers filmed the last two minutes of Floyd’s life. But the pleas of these passers-by and the presence of cell phone video cameras did not deter Chauvin and his company.

It was as if these officers were not afraid of losing their jobs or their freedom because of the incident. That they could get away with it. That they believed their authority was so great that they could abuse any citizen who dares to challenge them to the death.

The question is, how widespread is this mentality among the ranks of the thin blue line? And if it goes beyond a few bad apples, how do our leaders deal with the problem?

Law enforcement agency recruitment is a challenge these days and for uniformed officers the stress of the job can be very stressful. However, incidents like the killing of Floyd are in no way justified.

The police leadership must constantly protect itself from the fact that its officers lose perspective and their humanity. And ordinary people need to look after each other and hold each other accountable for their behavior in tense situations.

Companies are reminding customers to wear face masks and observe social distancing in their store.

Talking Point: No Shirt, No Shoes, No Mask, No Service (released August 19, 2020)

So let’s talk about “your rights” for a minute.

Let’s turn that around and talk about the rights of a private company.

A company has the right to refuse service to potential customers who, in the opinion of the company operator, are putting others at risk. That could apply to someone who is drunk, who carries guns and yes, someone who refuses to wear a mask for the way from the door to their table.

If you missed the story about the mask incident at the Crystal Beer Parlor over the weekend, you can probably imagine how it went: the maskless man goes to the hostess booth at the entrance and wants a table; Hostess says “Sure, but we ask that you wear your mask until you are seated”; Guy becomes belligerent and accuses restaurant of violating his liberties; Chaos arises.

This scenario has played out to companies across the country over the past few months. In other cases, the maskless customers have even become violent. This has to end.

Americans don’t seem to fully understand what many of their “rights” really are – especially those guaranteed by the first amendment. Your protection there prohibits the government from harming you in religion, speech, congregation, and protest.

Free speech is a good example. A private company can suppress your speech. An employer can fire you for saying defamatory things. A retailer can refuse to service you. As an employee, if you say or maintain false statements, you may be charged with libel or defamation.

The same applies to private companies like the Crystal Beer Parlor. Just as they can refuse to service those who are not wearing shirts or shoes in the restaurant, they can turn you away for not wearing a mask. It doesn’t violate your rights. that is what hers does.

Campaign signs for Chatham County Commission candidates, Clinton Edminster and Tony B. Riley, in District 2.

Talking Point: Chatham Commission Fiasco Reason for Over-election (October 29, 2020)

Take a mulligan, resident of Chatham County District 2.

Removing this election and holding a special election for the district chairperson is the best solution to this disqualification problem. Both DQed Tony Riley and the other contestant and winner of the race, Larry Rivers, are in the throes of this mess.

Additionally, the Chatham County’s Board of Election’s decision to disqualify Riley became corrupt when board member Debbie Rauers refused to withdraw from the hearing. She has a clear conflict of interest and emails show that she was part of the orchestrated efforts of the Chatham County’s Republican Party to time Riley’s disqualification to prevent other candidates from voting.

This is a farce in which everyone involved contributed to the “disenfranchisement” of voters in District 2. Riley and his supporters are fond of using the word, but it is the source of the whole problem. He lies on his qualification papers, hides his criminal history and takes on the role of victim in the 11th hour.

Let’s not forget – Riley is not legally eligible to run for an elected office. Period. End of the dispute. Forget all the nonsense about technical details and procedures. He is not authorized.

Now for Gator Rivers. The connection between him and Rauers, who he says he recruited as a Republican, and Rauers and the local Republican Party leadership is enough to get him into political purgatory.

Which leads back to a mulligan, a do-over. Planning a new election is the only fair thing to the real victims in this scenario, the District 2 voters.

The Savannah College of Art and Design played a significant role in the revitalization of Savannah.

Talking Point: SCAD once again awakens emotions when buying property (December 3, 2020)

If Savannah has a hero villain (think Darth Vader in “Return of the Jedi”) it’s Savannah College of Art and Design.

SCAD has had an immeasurable impact on the revitalization of Savannah over the past 40 years, especially downtown. However, SCAD’s success has its price – in the truest sense of the word. The school’s growth meant its principals buying more and more property within or near the school’s ever-growing footprint.

This has meant displacement and changed the face of the neighborhood. The most recent example is SCAD’s purchase of the Chatham Apartments building on Abercorn Street, which has long been home to low-income residents.

To be fair, it wasn’t SCAD that made it easy for these tenants to move – QR Capital, an Atlanta real estate investment group that bought the property a year ago, did. SCAD has bought the vacant building from QR Capital. Whether or not SCAD was the intended user from the start is a question the public will never know the answer to.

Every SCAD purchase triggers a mixture of praise and criticism from community members – depending on who is speaking and how they feel about gentrification and the influx of young adults who will soon be living in the region.

What makes the community even more excited about buying SCAD real estate is the fact that every piece of private property the school purchases is being struck off the tax list. SCAD is a not-for-profit university and pays no property taxes, which in Savannah covers a variety of services, including fire safety.

SCAD has investigated so-called “Pay Instead of Tax” – or PILOT – programs in use elsewhere in the country, but has yet to formalize one with Chatham County or the City of Savannah.

Adopting a PILOT would certainly suppress some of the SCAD’s disagreements. But not all.

The Chatham Apartments will not be SCAD’s last acquisition. The next time you read about one and feel your blood pressure rise, it’s important to remember all of the benefits SCAD has brought and will continue to bring to our city.

Just as school deserves to be considered a villain in some contexts, SCAD is also a great hero.