Removal of Obama photo raises question

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, October 7, 2009

One aldermen said at Tuesday night’s board meeting that hebelieves persistent removal of President Barack Obama’s picturefrom one of Brookhaven Fire Department’s stations may be raciallymotivated.

Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates said he had received a call lastThursday that “something was going on at the fire department.”

“I got a call about the president’s picture was put up, then itwas taken down. I went over there and got to looking and thepicture was behind the couch, so I asked them to put it back up,”he said. “One of them agreed to put it back up, and I got anothercall that the picture had been taken back down.”

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Bates said at that point he contacted Mayor Les Bumgarner to askhim to find out who had taken the picture off the wall at StationTwo on Willard Street.

Fire Chief Tony Weeks said Wednesday morning that the picturewas apparently one that a fire department employee had broughtin.

“As far as I know that it wasn’t a city-provided picture,” hesaid.

Bumgarner asked Bates if there had ever been a picture of anypresident in the fire department. Weeks said Wednesday nopresident’s picture has been put up in his more than 20 years inthe fire department.

During the board discussion, Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwellsaid he didn’t think the president’s picture should be up in thefire department, no matter who the president is.

“The fire department is a work center, and where we haveemployees congregating,” he said. “This boardroom is different. Itwould be great to have a picture of him in here. But not in aworkplace where the workers are.”

Bumgarner said a place like the fire department does not need tobecome politically charged.

“I don’t think the workplace needs to be politicized, especiallyif it never has been before,” he said, adding that he had discussedthe issue with Weeks. “Put the picture in your locker, your helmet,your bedroom or whatever, but not in the common area.”

But rather than politics, Bates speculated on another reason thephoto could have been taken down.

“It made me feel bad when I found that picture behind the couch,because I want to know was it because he’s a black president,”Bates said. “I hope not, because he’s the president. I feel likewhoever took down that picture don’t want to be working with someof the guys down there.”

Bates said if he had his way, he would make a motion to eitherfire or suspend the person who removed the picture from thewall.

“What if we took the mayor’s picture out of the courthouse?That’s history,” he said. “Someone that works for the city that Isupport and they feel like that?”

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron said it was the first he’dheard of the issue.

“I don’t want to be infringing on their political beliefs,because they have the right to their opinion, but their opiniondoesn’t make them right,” he said. “There’s a lot of history aboutPresident Obama being the first African-American president, but itgoes beyond that. He’s everybody’s president.”

Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes pointed out that Obama isactually biracial.

Bumgarner steered the conversation back to the politicalramifications.

“If that workplace had not been politicized before, now we’vepoliticized it,” he said. “If we’ve stayed away from it in thepast, we need to stay away from it now. We don’t need division inthe workplace. He’s our president, but if they haven’t had apresident’s picture up in the past, there has to be a reason forthat and there’s a reason now.”

During the meeting, Bumgarner asked Police Chief Pap Hendersonif there was a photo of the president up at the policedepartment.

“I’m out of this one,” Henderson said, with a smile. “I run thepolice department, and we’re fine over there.”

Weeks said he and Bumgarner are in the process of coming up withsolutions to the questions raised by the political differences overthe photo.