Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin responded to Pennsylvania Mayor Karen Peconi’s call to ‘bring the hoses’ against Pittsburgh protesters. Peconi made the comment on a 1963 image of Birmingham civil rights protesters being blasted by water cannons.
Andrew Yawn / Advertiser
A Pennsylvania mayorÂ is facing calls to resign from office after usingÂ a 1963 photograph of police blasting Birmingham civil rights protesters withÂ water cannons to endorse similar violence against PittsburghÂ protesters.Â
After seeing his city’s history brandished as a threat,Â Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin penned an open letter to Arnold, Pennsylvania, Mayor Karen Peconi last week, expressingÂ disappointment that Peconi “completely misrepresented the purpose and meaning of those historic events.”
“Those demonstrations â€Šâ€” â€Šand the oppressive manner in which our city government of the time chose to respond to them â€”â€Š raised the consciousness of Americans to the injustices being protested,” Woodfin wrote.Â “They brought about the end of segregation in Birmingham and played a large role in paving the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“I am writing as a black American because I am disappointed that any elected official in our country would hold the sentiments you expressed and endorse the actions that you called for in your post.”
Peconi’s comments came as protesters took to the streets of nearby PittsburghÂ following the police killing of 17-year-old Antwon Rose Jr., an unarmed black teen who ran from a traffic stop.Â
Along with the photograph of Birmingham protesters getting sprayed, Peconi wrote on Facebook, “Iâ€™m posting this so the authorities every where [see it]â€¦. bring the hoses.â€
Peconi also shared a video captioned “rioters destroyed by a water cannon,” and commented, “We need one of these for tomorrow.”
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Woodfin said he would not join in the chorus calling for her job. However, Woodfin did ask Peconi to understand the perils of endorsing police violence against protesters and using Birmingham’s civil rights history to do so.Â
“With that in mind, I am asking that you take the time to understand and reflect on why your use of an image of sacrifice and heroism that took place in Birmingham more than a generation ago was a disservice to those who demonstrated in Birmingham then, to those who demonstrate in the Pittsburgh area now and to the spirit and principles that represent America at its finest,” Woodfin wrote.Â
The letter was published to Medium, an online publishing platform.
The 37-year-old WoodfinÂ â€”Â the youngest mayor of Birmingham since David Fox was elected in 1893Â â€” has been adept at using social media to thrust Birmingham into national conversations since his election last October.Â
After the Georgia Legislature blocked a $50 million jet fuel sales tax exemption this year, Woodfin tweeted at Delta Airlines, “Let’s chat.”
As mayor of a city which endured events such as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, in which four young black girls were killed by four Ku Klux Klansmen, Woodfin also hasn’t shied away from confronting topics of race.Â
With Birmingham scheduled to have an Alliance of American Football pro football team, Woodfin tweeted a recruiting pitch at former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the first NFL player to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police violence.
“Birmingham welcomes players who fight for social justice. It’s in our DNA,” Woodfin tweeted.
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In May, a black Birmingham pastor changed his marquee to read “Black folks need to stay out of white churches,” after the Church of the Highlands announced a satellite location in Birmingham. Woodfin again took to Twitter to speak out against racism.
“There is a spirit of racism and division that is over this city. It must be brought down. We have to change the conversation to what we need it to evolve into,” Woodfin tweeted before quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.Â â€œ’Darkness can not drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate can not drive out hate; only love can do that.’â€
In his letter to Peconi, Woodfin again invoked the words of Dr. King, who once called Birmingham the most segregated city in the nation and was arrested in the cityÂ in 1963.
“In Birmingham, we believe that our cityâ€™s progress is a testament to the concept ofÂ reconciliation,” Woodfin wrote.Â “It is that spirit in which I am writing this open letter, which I want to conclude with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose presence on the streets of Birmingham exemplified the purpose of nonviolent protest and helped bring about ourâ€Šâ€”â€Šand the nationâ€™sâ€Šâ€”â€Šprogress on matters of race and human rights: ‘The method of nonviolence seeks not to humiliate and not to defeat the oppressor, but it seeks to win his friendship and his understanding. And thereby and therefore, the aftermath of this method is reconciliation.’ “
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Follow Andrew Yawn on Twitter:Â @yawn_meister