BRISTOL, Va. — Eight people — five of whom were Black — on Monday urged city School Board Chair Steve Fletcher to resign over comments he made last month on Facebook.
Eleven people spoke during the public comment portion of the board’s mid-month meeting with the balance — two of whom were Black — expressing support for Fletcher and saying he wasn’t a racist.
On Aug. 30, Fletcher criticized a Facebook post that included an illustration depicting two white police officers shooting a Black man in the back while a white man walks the other way, carrying a rifle. Under it were the words, “This is America.” Fletcher called the image “disgusting,” criticized the person who shared it and offered to provide Superintendent Keith Perrigan’s cellphone number if she wanted to speak with him regarding Fletcher’s comments.
Fletcher issued a public apology and said his comments weren’t intended as racist but to be supportive of local law enforcement.
“After reading your comments on Facebook, not knowing how old you are, I thought of my 14-year-old and her bickering with some of her friends,” the Rev. Steven Davis said. “I am calling for your resignation because I have children in Bristol, Virginia public schools, and it’s very difficult for me as a Black man — something I’ve been all my life and will probably die the same way — to raise my children in a society in Southwest Virginia where systemic racism is prevalent and coming from those in authority over my children.”
Erica Nophlin also called for Fletcher to resign and urged the school system to take steps to formalize its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, improve communications with the community and establish a committee to bring in the community’s perspective.
She accused Fletcher of smirking and not respecting public input during a called August meeting regarding school redistricting.
“What is most troubling, Mr. Fletcher, is your lack of humility,” parent Keshia Reese said, “and ability to recognize what you did was hurtful and had an impact [on] members of the community who put their trust in you.”
Parent Misty Russell reminded Fletcher he was in a position to influence children and had “broken the trust” of parents and the community.
Resident Michael Hughes said he came to support Fletcher, with whom he has been friends since elementary school.
“Regardless of the comments that have been made, the community will have to decide the value of his performance,” Hughes said. “I can unequivocally say he is not a racist; he doesn’t have a character based on any kind of a bias. If he did, I wouldn’t have seen the things over the 50-some years I’ve known him.”
Another friend of Fletcher, Darrell Russell, urged people to “slow down” and not “demonize” someone for a mistake.
“To sit here and demonize or criminalize a guy and ask for his job before we can really sit back and talk to him, before we can take time and understand who this person really is, to me is a little hasty,” Russell said.
Neither Fletcher, nor any other board member, responded to the public’s comments, which is their policy. But Fletcher, as chairman, thanked each person for their statements.
After initially declining a request for comment after the meeting, a visibly emotional Fletcher said, “This has been a lesson in humility, perseverance, humanity and faith.”
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