Friday, August 7, 2020

Racism Up North

What we’re up against in trying to end the pandemic and get back to some form of normal:

A local road commission meeting in northern Michigan on Monday started with one commissioner asking another why he wasn’t wearing a mask amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The unmasked official responded with a racist slur and an angry rant against the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Well, this whole thing is because of them n—–s in Detroit,” Tom Eckerle, who was elected to his position on the Leelanau County Road Commission in 2018, told his colleague at the start of the public meeting.

The commission chairman, Bob Joyce, immediately rebuked his colleague, but Eckerle continued his diatribe.

“I can say anything I want,” Eckerle said at the meeting, which the public could listen to via a dial-in number, the Leelanau Enterprise first reported. “Black Lives Matter has everything to do with taking the country away from us.”

Eckerle’s remarks came the same week Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.) declared racism a public health crisis because of the disparate impact the coronavirus pandemic has had in Black, Native American and Latino communities. Michigan has reported at least 94,656 cases and 6,506 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

[…]

The racist remark spurred widespread condemnation of Eckerle, who is Republican, and calls to resign from party officials. Despite the backlash, Eckerle doubled down on his comments on Thursday, defending his position and using the slur repeatedly in an interview with the local public radio station.

“I don’t regret calling it an n—-r,” Eckerle told Interlochen Public Radio. “A n—-r is a n—-r is a n—-r. That’s not a person whatsoever.”

About 93 percent of Leelanau County’s 21,761 residents are white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Fewer than 1 percent of the people who live there are black.

“It’s horrible,” Joyce told the Detroit News. “It’s absolutely horrific.”

He told the News that the other three road commissioners are pressing Eckerle to resign.

“We do not tolerate that,” he told the newspaper. “That’s not who we are.”

But Eckerle has not wavered. State Rep. Jack O’Malley (R), who represents Leelanau County, said he had a conversation with Eckerle and also asked the commissioner to step down.

I spent summers of my childhood in Leelanau County, and I lived in that part of Michigan year-round for seven years. Mr. Eckerle and his views are not an anomaly. Certainly not everyone is like him, but they’re there. They may not be on the record and spoken so bluntly, but it was my experience that racism and those kinds of epithets are an undercurrent in a part of the state that is over 90% white. I knew a number of people who moved there not only for the natural beauty but to get away from what they called the “mess” in downstate Michigan, meaning Detroit. Along with putting up with the “fudgies” — the local term for tourists who came in search of the legendary chocolate confection — getting away from Other people was a fair price to pay for living Up North.

This wouldn’t be news — gee, a racist on a county board in a snow-white community in rural Michigan — except for the fact that his hatred and racism is helping spread Covid-19 and kill people in the process.