Annapolis, Md. – A local activist projected two light banners with anti-white supremacist messages targeted at lawmakers on the exterior brick wall of 44 Calvert St. before Monday night’s County Council meeting.
“Dismantle white supremacy” and “respect existence or expect resistance” were the messages Annapolis resident and Backbone Campaign member Phil Ateto sent to the four council Republicans who made Councilman Michael Peroutka chairman in early December.
Ateto expressed his disappointment with the affirmative voters because they did so in light of Peroutka’s well-publicized and unwavering support of former Alabama Senate candidate and accused child molester, Judge Roy Moore, and Peroutka’s former membership with neo-Confederate, secessionist hate group, League of the South. “That sends a loud message to me, to people of color in the county, that white supremacy is more important to uphold than the well-being of people of color,” said Ateto.
Ateto took note as all seven council members walked past his artful protest on their way into the chambers. “It’s important that we embrace high visibility tactics to take back the public common,” said Ateto, who in September used the theater lights to display the message “stop the hate” onto the Maryland Statehouse.
Inside the council chambers, 16 residents provided emotionally-charged, verbal protest through testimony expressing their frustration with Peroutka’s confirmation. Many asked for his resignation or for the council to overturn their vote. Dozens more stood and clapped in support of their testimonies. No indication was made that either of these demands would be met and Peroutka did not respond to requests for comment.
Leah Frazier of Crofton directed her disappointment at Councilman Jerry Walker. “I thought you could find it in yourself to abandon partisanship and to really think about your vote for who is going to lead our council,” said Frazier. To the entire council Frazier said, “As a person of color and an immigrant in this community, it is not a welcoming place.”
Council members do not respond to public comment during the meeting, but Walker expressed compassion for the experience of immigrants in an email Thursday and said his vote for Mr. Peroutka and other past chairmen “in no way should be construed to indicate my support for all of their positions or in any way support people they endorse or support.” Walker also recommended to those feeling similarly to Frazier that they make sure their voices are heard at council meetings and engage in the 2018 elections. Walker said, “Work on a campaign, donate money to a candidate, or participate in issue-based activism.”
Fifty-year resident of Crofton Dick Lahn said, “I think our county is moving in the wrong direction. I think we need a government that brings us all together and moves us all forward.”
Michael Peroutka’s pastor and League of the South member David Whitney described the testimony of the protesters as a “mobocracy” and said they were ignoring the law by attempting to overthrow an official who was duly elected by the District 5 constituency. Three other residents spoke on behalf of Peroutka, including one Baltimore man who called Moore’s accusers liars and paid prostitutes.
Throughout the contentious public comments, Peroutka remained composed and used his gavel multiple times to ask audience members to refrain from clapping, calling out and to allow one person to speak at a time.
The county charter grants the chairperson the authority to introduce legislation on behalf of and as a courtesy to the administration, schedule or cancel meetings, enforce the time limits of speakers, and receive a pay increase. The council elects a chairman at the December session, and the incumbent chair can be reelected.
Despite the proforma nature of the chairman position, Ateto remains concerned about the County Council’s decision. Ateto said, “Electing someone with Peroutka’s history seems more important [to the council] than having a council whose leadership is more reflective of the community.”
Councilman Michael Peroutka will run for re-election in District 5 in 2018.
Activist Phil Ateto will continue to light up the dark.
Brenda Wintrode is a freelance journalist from Anne Arundel County.
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