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A Mean Spirit Must Be Absent From Race Discussions

Public officials — and those running for public office — have a responsibility to speak carefully and clearly on matters of race and gun policy.

They must exercise extreme caution when those two hot-button issues intersect.

A minor controversy was sparked at a recent Jamestown City Council meeting when Christina Cardinale, the Democratic Party candidate for the 150th Assembly District seat currently held by Andrew Goodell, sent in a pointed comment aimed at Councilman Jeff Russell, R-At Large.

Russell shared a Facebook meme posted by the New York State Firearms Association stating “The answer to the question ‘why do you need an AR-15 and 30 round magazines?’ is on every news channel today.”

The post was intended only for Russell’s Facebook friends, but ended up in the public sphere. Cardinale asked if Russell’s post signaled an intent to turn firearms on protesters. Russell said he shared the post in response to the killing of David Dorn, a retired St. Louis police officer, by looters and rioters in St. Louis. Two men have now been charged in Dorn’s death.

In the span of two days, any goodwill and positive dialogue that had been built with peaceful protests in Jamestown’s Dow Park could have been crumbled under the weight of a former police officer’s well-deserved support of a slain brother in blue. It would be naive to think a former police officer wouldn’t be struck by the death of a fellow retired officer who was trying to protect a friend’s store from looters.

Russell word choice was poor, but it’s hard to fault him for the sentiment. And, Russell has a right to advocate his support for the Second Amendment.

Cardinale may have been acting on her own personal behalf, but her questions were almost immediately linked to her campaign against Goodell. Given the tinderbox that debates over the Second Amendment and racist behavior, it’s worth asking what public purpose was served in the tone and tenor of Cardinale’s public questioning of the council over Russell’s private Facebook post. Asking if Russell was advocating the use of weapons against peaceful protestors seems out of line, particularly with the benefit of hindsight.

Questioning our leaders is important in our system of government. It is important to hold our leaders accountable by asking difficult questions. But we can do so in a way that isn’t aimed at scoring political points. The issue of race in our society must not fall prey to partisan politics. If we are to ever have a productive discussion on race in our city, state and nation, we must be clear in our public discourse and avoid a mean spirit that further entrenches even the most reasonably minded people in our midst.

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