Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy: We Need to Confront Racism and Division

Earlier today, Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy delivered his annual State of the City address, specifically focusing on the ways in which racism and division have coarsened the public discourse and undermined the city’s success.

The mayor’s remarks, as prepared for delivery: 

Welcome to everyone.  Thank you for being here to share a few minutes talking about the state of our City, Alexandria.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are too many people to thank, like our teachers, healthcare workers, public safety officers, and non-profit supporters of our humanity at countless foundations and food banks—including all our student workers supporting our camps and events and humanitarian services, so thank you to all I missed and I am happy to report:

The state of Alexandria is fiscally and operationally sound; it is in fact in as good a position financially and set up for growth as it has enjoyed since early in the 1900s.  We have a stable regional economy, a robust city economy, and an enviable budgetary and financial position among sister cities in Louisiana.

As mayor, my directives all come from you, in two primary ways: directly through your comments at neighborhood meetings and during the campaign cycle; and also through you by way of council members.  It is in this latter manner that the rub generally occurs. 

Consent is important as a concept.  It means to be given the permission to do something; but, it also means to be in accord.  It is something granted and then a concord, an agreement.  But with consent, it always involves a will or permission of one to another, not merely agreement.  I believe this job, the actual management of the city, is about consent.  And, I believe that consent can be revoked, and indeed should be, when the authority given the gift of consensual leadership fails to address a community’s needs.  You have to feel as though accomplishment is happening; indeed, the roots of the word consent come from “feeling,” not just permission.

Completion is another concept important to me—and, with it, a methodical working of a plan.  The plan should come from your consent, and then worked to completion.  The word means to us to have fully carried out something or some action.  But, like consent, its roots and full meaning instruct us a bit more.  When something is complete, it means it has all the necessary parts.

The truth is the state of Alexandria is fiscally and operationally sound and we also have something else: something less definable, but equally important.  We have a resilience and hardness.  This hardness makes us tough, even tough on each other.  But it also protects us and makes us survivors.  We need it now as a sluggish fog in the state economy threatens.

Alexandria has all the necessary resources and parts.  Sadly, it is missing the commitment of good people, too many of whom, stand idly by when we need a real conversation about coming together.

There is another hardness, though.  One we do not need.  It is found in two places.  There is a hardness of people who cannot see the value of life.  And there is an equal and opposite force of hardness of people who do not worry about those harmed because they feel it does not affect them—the proverbial “they” and “them”—and the worst of cynicisms, they are only killing themselves.  This is the principle of “the other.”  It is actually called as a process, Othering, in philosophy.  It is the systematic and even reactive too- labeling and description of not me, not us, but them.  It is dangerous.  It is cynical, and it will not help Alexandria.  “Us and them,” as a construct, has never worked well in a modern and just society. 

So, what worries me about the state of the City and our state of this state, and really that of our nation: division.

We can defeat division with not otherness but togetherness.  I am asking you all to engage in an individual commitment to not be us and them.  More on that will follow this year; please pay attention.

So, last year I ended this address with where we begin today:

“Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”  Matthew 26:52. 

The sword can be a metaphor for the violence we see in America and our city, but it is also emblematic of the violence we hear with our tongues and the division in our streets, government and even homes.  The sword is not limited to physical violence, but is Providence’s warning that living by aggressive, harmful forces results in spiritual death by the same forces.

If you think about it, it is why we are so desensitized to everything we see; to how we speak to each other; to how we accuse one another; and in some ways, for even the falsest of prophets, why so many will follow the false prophet when those who know better stand idly by and say nothing and do nothing when they should. 

Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

And, a recent president said of today: “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

“When we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with protecting and defending democracy,” said by George Bush last week. 

One news agency has a commercial with simply a picture of an apple and explanation that no matter how many times you call it a banana, even put banana in all caps, it is an apple.  We talk about and accuse one another of fake news, alternative facts, and worse—much worse.

Since being mayor, but only in the last part of my tenure, I have been accused of fathering children outside of my marriage, poisoning whole neighborhoods, purposefully raising utilities on only certain people based on race or geography, and withholding programs and projects to hurt people.  Never mind that each of these is demonstrably false and provably without any merit.  More concerning, these have come from officials, from politics, out of this very chamber.

Ladies and gentlemen, I indeed am proud to serve you as mayor.  If I do not say that enough, let me assure you how much I realize it is a sign of trust, confidence, and truly a gift to be allowed by you to be in this position.  It is, after all, only through consent of the governed that I have been mayor, not the other way around.  And, because of the exhortation to be persons of peace, and because of what is happening today in our Nation and world, I must begin with another point, a point which raises a danger to me politically because it can be seen as ill-motivated or an admission of some wrong. 

I regret and apologize for any enmity an action taken under my leadership has caused, directly or indirectly.  Every person who felt overlooked as an employee or citizen, from a patron in a restaurant not acknowledged to a tenured public servant losing a position with the City to a deal you felt handled wrong—I am sorry for the hurt these decisions cause.  I know what goes into my decisions, and you do not—and cannot, in many cases. 

When I go to sleep I know I have worked hard to get it right and I assure you when I feel the alarm of self-criticism or yours, I will focus on getting it right, re-working it, or trying again.

I also can tell you this—I always will be transparent, tell you the truth, and give you the facts.  I have to gain and keep your consent and then I have to demonstrate that within that consent, my administration has completed the directives from you, the people. 

At the beginning of 2007, I adopted a community driven transition team plan of work.  It had the following major components: to take care of infrastructure; to place our utilities in a state of excellence; to create clear policies and measure accomplishments in real time and later in their life cycles; and to effect changes in quality of life on a visible, measurable level, with a focus on recreation and public projects to create a desirable, livable city.   We have made record investments in infrastructure and related programs, and I detailed them on Friday, in part.

I operate under the assumption local businesses and entrepreneurs possess answers to problems, and therefore our citizens should be used in the solution-making processes of local government.  That is why we will need business and its membership groups and many others in the community to help.  Violent super crimes, murder and manslaughter, are spiking this summer.  While some crimes are down or static, murders among young African-American males are way up.  It is alarming, shocking to the conscience.  It is unacceptable and requires our help.

Our completed plans surely indicate there is more work to do to make it better in all regards and to adopt new plans and goals.

  • My focus now will be completion of youth and educational programs to better prepare our workforce and future workforce and children for the ever-changing and quickly advancing competition of the future.
  • Secondly, relating to but also in addition to the previous item, we will dynamically alter policing pace, persistence, and operational tempo.  This will occur primarily through an executive order to be released imminently.
  • Finally, we will make our city one on the cutting edge of smart technologies to serve you and to attract new Alexandrians. 

Within all of these three themes, there needs to be a commitment by each of you.  Without this commitment, we cannot move forward.  We need to demonstrate our love for every person, family, and especially child who needs us.

Hatred and false claims trap us.  If you show it is untrue you’ll be seen as fighting.  It’s insidious this way.  So the best way, at least the way to combat it is to elevate: to move above it.  If you have to address it, do so.  But try and avoid what is desired—a fight that only shows more chaos to people and because of our official roles gives more of an okay: A permission. 

Jesus Christ preached a gospel that reimagined the previous testament’s fundaments creating the greatest command of love: to turn the other cheek.  On an individual level, this is without qualification as long as to do so does not unreasonably and recklessly endanger others.  For a leader, the policy of appeasement may be right when reasonable actors confront each other.  But, from Chamberlain’s first giving in to Hitler, that merciless actor intended to take that inch for the mile.  Our worst moment of civil war resulted from appeasement that could never work. 

I will try every appeasement but I can tell you that some of what is driving division cannot be appeased: Because it is based not in reason but in demagoguery. 

My promise to you is simple and straightforward.  It is to live by these beliefs long held by me and lived by me in public life:

Be truthful to the public you serve.

Recognize it as and call out racism for what it is—a sin, America’s original sin and continuing stain requiring all of our address.

Give the public your best energy, your promise to lead, and your daily commitment to excellence.

Treat city finances like a CEO taking care of a business with citizen shareholders and directors and treat days at work as a laboratory director.

So to the pastors here, today, and all you, we cannot today but want to proclaim:

“You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; . . . .”  Matthew 5:14.

God bless you, Alexandria-Pineville, our Parish and State and the United States of America.

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