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Township Council Ruminates On Race, Equality

Township Councilwoman Crystal Pruitt kicked off a Council discussion about racial equality at the June 9 Township Council meeting.

The issue of racial equality and equity was discussed by Township Council members during the June 9 Council meeting.

This was the Council’s first meeting since two racial equality and anti-police brutality marches were held in the township. Some Council members attended the marches.

Councilman Ted Chase (D-Ward 1) alluded to the issue after he led the Council in the “Pledge of Allegiance” at the meeting’s start.

“I’ve always had some wonderment about the very last phrase,” Chase said, referring to the phrase “and justice for all.”

“We’re getting better, but do we really have liberty and justice for all?” he said.

Councilwoman Crystal Pruitt kicked off the fuller discussion, which came during the “Council Comments” portion of the meeting.

“I really wanted to says something profound and really important, but I just couldn’t find the words,” she began. “I think I just felt really sadness and despondency over the fact that in 2020 this is still just as big an issue as it was before the civil rights act and for the past 400 years. People who look just like me and share my skin color have struggled with this.”

Pruitt said that when she was sworn in to her position in January, she promised to “work to dismantle systems of oppression, and I am still very much committed to that.”

“I’m still very much committed to the work that is … joining together our communities … making sure our police department is doing a brilliant job,” she said. “Some of that brilliant work they’re doing they’ve demonstrated these past couple weeks in supporting the protests.”

“Anyone who doesn’t feel heard and is struggling right now, we are struggling too,” she said. “But we have a responsibility to … support you.”

“And this isn’t just a black issue, this is your fight if you are an LGBT person, this is your fight if you are an indigenous person, this is your fight if you are a non-black person of color, this is your fight if you’re part of another marginalized group, this is your fight if you’re white, this is your fight if you’re committed to equality and equity,” she said.

“So I think it’s just really important as a community leader, as a Councilwoman, to say that I stand with our community and I do believe that black lives matter and all lives can’t matter until black ones do, too,” Pruitt said. “I’m committed in my role to do that. That’s the only thing I can do. We are with you and we understand and we are committed to do anything we can to support this community and to support good policies that make our community safe.”

“That was beautiful what you just said,” Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At Large) said to Pruitt. “I support you, I certainly back up everything you said. Thank you for saying that, it’s very important to our community.”

Councilman Ram Anbarasan (D-At Large), who attended teh marches, said he did so to “show solidarity with the community of Franklin.”

“Some might call it at the risk of infecting myself, but I felt strongily that I should be there,” he said.

“I think it was very heartening to see hundreds of young people rising up and expressing their concern for justice for all,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a fight for a long time to come. It’s not guaranteed when and how we’re are going to get what we are all looking for and praying for.”

Chase said the Council supports Pruitt and “we support particularity the younger people that are telling us how things ought to be better.”

“As I said earlier, I’ve often have thought that ‘liberty and justice for all’ in the Pledge of Allegiance really hasn’t been fully realized for a lot of people in this country, particularly the justice part,” he said. “I feel that as an entitled white man, I have not suffered the way some people have, and I feel that I’ve tried to make things better.”

“We haven’t always been perfect,” he said, “but I think we’re trying to be as just and equal as we can be and I hope we can continue to be proud of our police force,” he said.

Councilman James Vassanella thanked Chase and Pruitt for what they said.

“I grew up in this town, I always felt that we were more harmonious than a lot of the other places Ive seen and experienced,” Vassanella said. “The persistence of the youth that I watched, I watched the entire protest online, the persistence of which this issue is being dealt with is long overdue.”

“Not only the police department, but our new (Public Safety) director will lead us through what is obviously a difficult time,” he said. “Not just lead us through, but make us better. Our town is about diversity, but this only works if there is justice and equality for all.”

Referring to the first of a seven-point agenda to end police brutality created by the Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, Kramer said he wants Franklin to be a model of police behavior.

“The very first step is, to go to towns and see who’s doing it right and do it like they’re doing it,” he said. “I want to be that town, to be the one that people come to. That is my goal.

“Another person put it to me, they want our police officers to be heroes,” Kramer said. “I think we have a good police force. Not without problems. I congratulate them on their past accomplishments and how much better they’re going to get.”

Kramer said his big fear has been that the issue of racial justice will fade away, as have other issues in the past.

But, he said, “the fact that this is overshadowing a world pandemic, as terrible as that is, gives me faith that this time this won’t be forgotten. We’re going to continue toward on this, we have a terrific Public Safety Director who couldn’t have come on at a better time with her experience.”

“We are poised to do a lot of very good things, we will not drop our guard for even a moment,” he said.

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