By Stephen Janis and Taya Graham
Special to the AFRO
A White Talbot County Councilwoman who moved to silence the president of the local chapter of the NAACP during a debate over diversity is being urged to apologize.
The conflict arose recently while the Eastern Shore council considered a proposal to formally adopt a diversity statement in the county’s employee handbook.
During a debate over the measure, Talbot County NAACP President Richard Potter’s audio was cut off as he criticized councilwoman Laura Price for speaking out against it. Meanwhile, the council woman threatened to leave the meeting if Potter was allowed to speak.
“This has got to stop,” Price said in response to Potter’s comments.
Price did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The move has sparked criticism from both Potter and the Maryland ACLU.
“It’s a clear violation of our constitutional rights and freedom of speech, “Potter said.
“Councilmember Laura Price’s approach displayed both ignorance about the lived reality of many Black people in the community, and an unwillingness to listen and learn about perspectives different from her own. That is unacceptable,” said Debbie Jeon, Legal Director the ACLU of Maryland.
Potter said his comments were cut off when he pushed back against Price’s assertion the measure was unnecessary, arguing she was viewing the issue from the perspective of White privilege.
“That struck a nerve for her but that’s exactly what she did,” Potter said. “When did she become Black, and when did she become a person of color?”
From the onset of the discussion, Councilwoman Price characterized a diversity statement as out of sync with her perception that racism was not an issue on the Eastern Shore.
“We do not have a problem here with this,” Price said, according to the ACLU. “We don’t need to make a huge deal out of this,” she added.
Her pushback raised tensions between her and Council President Corey Pack, who is African-American.
Pack told the AFRO he introduced the diversity statement as a formal way to acknowledge the county’s commitment to racial equity and acceptance.
“If we are a county representing diversity and inclusion, what’s the harm of putting that in writing?” he said.
But he said the pushback from Price, as well as lack of support from the rest of the council which is composed solely of white members, gave him pause.
“I was very frustrated that something as simple as a diversity statement could not be passed that evening.”
Potter said he was stunned when his comments about the lack of support for a basic statement in diversity were silenced.
“They have apologized to us individually. However, I think they need to apologize to the public.”
The failure to pass the resolution is not the end of the issue. Pack says he plans to reintroduce the measure at the next council meeting.
Later in July, the council will hear public comments on a proposal to remove the Talbot Boys statue from the county’s courthouse lawn. The monument was installed in 1916 in remembrance of Confederate soldiers from Talbot County who fought for the Confederacy.
A push to remove the statue in 2017 failed, in part due to the fact Pack voted against it. But now he says he supports the removal, and has at least one other vote in favor.
“My heart has changed on the matter; I believe it is time for the statue to come down.”