(Above) Rachel Bass, Lee County organizer for Showing Up for Racial Justice of Southwest Florida, listens to a question from the audience at the Democratic Club of the Islands monthly meeting May 18 at the Community House. (Below right) Members of the audience and presenters share views at the conclusion of the DCI’s Black Lives Matter speeches. (Bottom right) Elaine Schaeffer, co-chair of the Democratic Club of the Islands, outlines upcoming events. SC photos by David Rohn
(Above) Rachel Bass, Lee County organizer for Showing Up for Racial Justice of Southwest Florida, listens to a question from the audience at the Democratic Club of the Islands monthly meeting May 18 at the Community House. (Below right) Members of the audience and presenters share views at the conclusion of the DCI’s Black Lives Matter speeches. (Bottom right) Elaine Schaeffer, co-chair of the Democratic Club of the Islands, outlines upcoming events. SC photos by David Rohn

The problem in race relations is typically a problem of perspective, said Earl Sparrow while addressing the Democratic Club of the Islands about Black Lives Matter Thursday evening, May 18, at the Sanibel Community House.

To explain his point, Sparrow, an activist from Dunbar and host of local ATV shows “Politico” and “Pillars of Success”, discussed the recent acquittal of white Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby in the shooting of Terrance Crutcher, a 40-year-old unarmed black motorist whose car was disabled.

Defense attorneys successfully argued that Shelby was in fear for her life because Crutcher, who was on drugs, refused to obey orders and was reaching in his automobile for what Shelby feared might have been a weapon.

Sparrow argued that Shelby had numerous options besides fatally shooting the father of two young children that day. During the incident that was filmed from a helicopter, evidence indicated she had a backup officer with her, had a bullet-proof vest, could have sought safety behind her police cruiser while negotiating with Crutcher or awaiting the arrival of more police, or used her billyclub or Taser instead of her gun, as did another police officer.

If Crutcher had killed Shelby because he was in fear for his life,” Sparrow said, “he would have been killed – not acquitted, as Shelby was.”

Sparrow added that it would be one thing if the Tulsa incident was a one-time thing.

But,” he added after ticking off numerous other incidents of fatal police shootings of unarmed blacks, “it happens time, after time, after time, after time, after time.”

According to Sparrow, when such incidents happen, many whites typically view them one way while blacks have a different perspective.

Even whites who abhor such police shootings often decry the marches and demonstrations, instead of the shootings, Sparrow argued.

He quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “Letter From The Birmingham Jail”, in which King wrote: ‘I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ’I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’.”

Commenting on extreme actions or statements sometimes made under the banner of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Sparrow said, “If you see an idiot who says he wants to kill all white people, who is speaking with a Black Lives Matter poster behind him, that only means he’s an idiot, not someone who is part of the movement.”

He urged Democrats in the room not to make assumptions, but to talk to people and find out the facts.

Sparrow said that a recent march by blacks in Dunbar from one church to another was recently branded by one news outlet as a Black Lives Matter march when it had absolutely nothing to do with the movement.

We have to stop trying, every time we see seven black people together and there’s not a basketball, of saying, ‘Is it a Black Lives Matter Rally’?” Sparrow remarked.

He also urged whites in the audience to speak out, fight for racial justice and to vote.

Rachel Bass, Lee County organizer for Showing Up for Racial Justice of Southwest Florida, an organization committed to bringing white people into the cause for racial justice through activism, education, artistic expression and community organizing, said she became involved in racial justice issues after the 2015 mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., by 21-year-old white supremacist Dyann Roof.

After the church shooting, I was devastated,” she remarked. “But when I went back to my community, no one was even talking about it.”

Bass said it is often uncomfortable to talk to others about the issue of race, but it is a discussion that badly needs to be undertaken.

We need to push ourselves to be a little uncomfortable,” she added.

Following both presentations, there was lots of discussion about the recent detailing of corruption, misconduct and poor community relations in the Fort Myers Police Department.

Speakers and several audience members said that the community needs to be patient and supportive, and give officials time to address the issues raised by the report. But, at the same time, simply sitting back and simply waiting for someone else to do something is not an option.

White privilege” also was a topic of discussion.

Bass, who is white, noted that she had been driving around for more than a year with an outdated license plate tag. But the very first time her husband, who is black, drove the car, he was stopped by a police officer and ticketed.

That’s what is called the offense of driving while black,” quipped Sparrow, who said he recently was ticketed while arriving at his church for driving without his seatbelt by an officer who probably couldn’t have known he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt unless he had been stopped.

DCI co-Chair Elaine Schaeffer announced that the DCI’s monthly happy hour social will be at Traders on June 1 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Its monthly meeting at the Sanibel Community House will be June 22, at 7 p.m., featuring Dr. Ellen Scriviner, a police and public safety psychologist, who is deputy director of the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Department of Justice.

She will discuss police-community relations.