PINE ISLAND — How much change is needed in Pine Island?
That's the question that kept getting asked, though not answered, Tuesday night at the Pine Island City Council meeting.
The meeting, which covered topics ranging from allowing chickens in the city to paying the monthly bills, including passage of a resolution supporting an inclusive and welcoming community for people of all "age, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ethnicity, religion, or country of origin."
That show of support for diversity did not stop a long discussion about the protests that have occurred in the city and what progress can be made to ensure the resolution is felt in practice.
Joe Loftus, a Pine Island resident who Monday night hosted a Facebook Live discussion on equality and race in Pine Island, said he'd like to move past protesting toward finding solutions to specific problems.
"This protesting thing has divided our community in some certain ways," he said during a public input session that saw more than a dozen people speak over a combined hour-plus discussion. "We need to find a better way."
Loftus said his community group was the way to move forward to fix any problems that exist in Pine Island.
"We need to fix this," he said. "Protesting has brought some things to light and it has stirred some conversation."
However, Alice Is Kopp, one of the protest organizers in Pine Island, said, "We're not going to quit protesting until there is actual, visible, major change in this city and the culture of this city and how we recognize and address race and different issues of diversity and equality in Pine Island."
Kopp asked the council to implement several measures, including banning the Confederate flag, the swastika and "other symbols" of "hatred and anti-Blackness" from display in public buildings, a public statement outlining the city council's commitment to Black lives in the community against racially motivated harassment or violence by police or community members, and the establishment of a human rights commission with representatives of the community who have unique needs and experiences and can lend their voice to those who have been historically not heard.
Kopp's concerns were echoed by Devale Taylor, who said the Black Lives Matter protests in Pine Island were not just about racists events in Pine Island, but about racism across the country. Taylor said he has been called racist names and worries each day when he leaves his home if he will return home safely.
While no one argued that Black individuals have not faced instances of racism or a different experience in America – or even in Pine Island – than white people, how to move forward so everyone feels a similar sense of welcoming in the community was up for debate.
Sara Bertschinger said while Black lives matter as much as any other life to her, she said many people object to the protests because it calls for support of the organization known as Black Lives Matter. She pointed to comments made in the media by BLM leaders that call for an end to capitalism, support of Marxism, and instances of violence against people not supporting the BLM movement.
"So, if those at the recent Pine Island BLM demonstrations feel hurt for not being welcomed with open arms, it has nothing to do with you as a person and everything to do with the flag you stand under," she said.
Like Loftus, Brandi Staloch said she would prefer the community handle any issues that come up with people feeling unwelcome or being attacked because of their race rather than form a commission using the city government's resources.
Staloch runs a Facebook community page for Pine Island, and said Loftus' ad hoc meeting of community members was a positive first step to talking and listening among people with different backgrounds.
"It needs to be handled by the community who needs to take a stand," she said. Pointing to the city council, she added, "We are much larger than they are, and we can affect the change."
Lost among the talk of protests and differences between community members were the good things she witnessed during the first protest last month, said Deidra Mensing. She noted that people dropped off bottled water, juice, cookies and ice cream sandwiches to the protest groups on both sides of the street that day.
"I want some of the good things that happened that day brought out," she said.
As for people being called racial epithets or being made to feel unwelcome in "my town," Mensing said, "We do have to stand up. The only thing that doesn’t get fixed are things we don’t know about."