Reactions to the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis and ensuing protests around the country resulted in Magnolia officials passing resolutions calling for the resignation of one of their own members as well as President Donald Trump.
Of the roughly 25 people present for the start of Magnolia’s board meeting Tuesday night, many were there due to Mayor Anthony Witherspoon’s call on social media for citizens to support his demand for Alderman Joe Cornacchione, who participated in the meeting by phone, to step down.
One of those present, Gary Brumfield, pastor of Rosehill Missionary Baptist Church, invoked the Pledge of Allegiance and the Declaration of Independence in adding his own call for Cornacchione’s resignation.
“It is crystal clear that you are not a forward thinker, and that you are trying to incite a civil war,” Brumfield said. “I wish you were here so you could look me in my eyes and admit your wrongdoing. You should resign with dignity, and treat others as you would have them treat you.”
Brumfield and Witherspoon decried Cornacchione’s sharing on social media of a message which read, “Snow Plows for Snow Flakes Clear the Streets.”
Both noted that respondents to the post suggested using fire hoses and buckshot instead, and said those responses had been liked by Cornacchione.
They said the imagery of fire hoses and buckshot harkened back to the civil rights era, when protests by African-Americans were sometimes broken up by those means.
“This is that same rhetoric coming from the White House infiltrating Magnolia,” Witherspoon said, drawing parallels to the speeches and tweets of President Trump.
He said when conservative protesters came to Magnolia to oppose the removal of the state flag from city hall, “They had the right to exercise their freedom of speech ... I made sure that the law protected them.”
He drew a distinction between legal protesting versus rioting and looting, and urged citizens to “use your voices ... to dismantle institutional and systemic racism.”
Cornacchione’s fellow board members also took him task for his post, which had been taken down by Wednesday morning.
Alderman Antonio Martin said he could “never tolerate” messages like Cornacchione’s, and told Brumfield, “I stand with you.”
Board member Darrell Pounds expressed displeasure, but still sounded a conciliatory tone.
“Alderman Joe, I love you. I saw that post, and I still love you,” Pounds said. “But the city can’t stand like this. We’ve been through some things, but now is the time to come together.”
Alderman Clarence Burton said his daughter had kept him up much of the previous night asking him questions about the post and what it meant.
For the racist tone he believes the post conveyed, “We don’t have to put up with that,” he said.
Given the opportunity to speak during the meeting, Cornacchione said, “What do you want me to say? I resign myself not to resign.”
Reached Wednesday morning, Cornacchione told the Enterprise-Journal that “the way this was spun is disheartening.”
He said he did not see the post as racist, as not all of those protesting, rioting and looting are African-American, and also drew a distinction between those peacefully protesting and those engaging in rioting and looting.
“I have a problem with all the burning, rioting and looting,” Cornacchione said. “The looters are from all walks of life, and they’re mostly young. They’re just taking advantage of the situation .. This burning and looting is nonsense. That’s not helping the cause.”
He said he believes most police officers and departments are “cautious” about their procedures because they don’t want situations such as George Floyd’s death to lead to the public demonstrations seen over the past week.
Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with murder, and “what more can they do to him?” Cornacchione said. “The right thing is being done.”
He said he was “blindsided” by the effort to call for his resignation, and that the post was taken out of context. He said he had received threats that someone would burn down his house, and that his address and his and wife’s places of employment had been posted online.
“This whole thing is just crazy,” Cornacchione said. “The mayor is just being an opportunist. What he did was wrong, and reckless.
“He’s called me a racist since the first day he was elected. I’m the only one that disagrees with him on a lot of issues. He’s tried to hang me a number of times. I think this is something that was calculated ... I’m used to this. I’m thick-skinned.”
He reiterated that he would not resign over the matter, and said, “I would be stupid, as an alderman, to do something racist. If I really thought it was racist, I wouldn’t have done it.”
The board voted 4-1 in favor of the resolution seeking Cornacchione’s resignation, with Cornacchione and Alderwoman Becky Magee voting by phone. Cornacchione was the lone vote against the measure.
Turning to Trump, “I have no problem saying Americans elected the worst president in American history,” Witherspoon said.
“This country needs leadership, from the White House to city hall. We don’t have leadership. This president is trying to bring back the (1968 presidential) campaign of George Wallace. ... We don’t need a president that talks about building walls, we need a president that talks about building bridges.”
Cornacchione said Wednesday that he didn’t think the presidential resolution was “representative of the whole city,” and it was “not appropriate for a city of 2,000” to pursue such a resolution.
The Trump resolution passed on the same 4-1 vote.