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The Public Record: Former Griffin commissioner uses N-word during meeting

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The Players: In an exchange between former Griffin City Commissioner Larry Johnson, who is white, and current City Commissioner Rodney McCord, who is black, Johnson used the N-word three times to describe an area near where he grew up. The rest of the city commission also has a role in this exchange as well.

The Context: The city of Griffin proclaims April to be Confederate History Month each year. Johnson spoke to the commission during the public comment portion of a March 27 meeting to show his support of the proclamation and was addressing McCord, whom he had served on the commission with and had disagreements with in the past.

The Quote: Johnson is recalling a conversation he had with McCord when they served on the commission together and says the following:

“I told you at that time, that there were white folks and there were black folks when I was growing up. There was white trash — my family— and there was n— town. I lived next to n— town.”

Former Griffin Commissioner Larry Johnson

The Response: McCord immediately objected to the language and asked, “You lived next to what town?” To which, Johnson replied “N– town, son.” McCord protested again and Commission Chair Douglas Hollberg attempted to silence McCord, encouraging him to let Johnson finish making his point. After a bit of back-and-forth, McCord lodges the following protest:

“I’m not going to sit here and.. maybe y’all are comfortable with this— I don’t know. I’m not going to sit here and let this man use that type of language, and if nobody else is offended, then I am.”

Griffin City Commissioner Rodney McCord

At that point, Hollberg tells Johnson to refrain from using the racial slur, but allows him to continue speaking.

The Video: Below is the video of the meeting so you can hear the exchange yourself and draw your own conclusions. The exchange starts at the 54 minute mark.

Why It Matters: While the fact that a former elected official is using this type of language in 2018 should be concerning, the complacency and silence from the rest of the commission speaks volumes. McCord was the only commissioner to protest, and the commission chair along with the rest of the elected officials allowed Johnson to continue despite having used a racial slur in a public meeting.

Elected officials represent the citizens they serve, so the actions or inactions of an elected body is representative of the community that body serves. This story was reported statewide and by several national news sources. In addition to making the residents of Griffin look bad, it also reflects poorly on the entire state.

The City Officially Responds: The City of Griffin released a response to the incident April 7. Below is the full statement.

In light of the recent publicity that resulted from actions at a City Commission meeting on March 27, 2018, the City of Griffin would like its residents, businesses and visitors to know that while the City respects every citizen’s rights to First Amendment freedom of speech, the City does not condone, patronize or tolerate any citizen’s use of derogatory or offensive speech.

The disparaging racial comments recently made in a public meeting by a resident of Spalding County were not reflective of the values of the City of Griffin Board of Commissioners, its staff or the majority of its citizens. The City values the rights of citizens to participate in open meetings and express their views on matters pertinent to the operations of city government; however, one person’s views and expressions are not representative of the city as a whole.

The City of Griffin is very proud of its inclusivity, its community relationships and its recognition of equality for all of its people. We have continually used the tag line of “ONE GRIFFIN” to amplify our entire community’s relationships and camaraderie. We remain a proud community of people of all races, nationalities, backgrounds, cultures and classes and welcome all people to a community “Growing Together.”

Update April 12, 2018: Facing a strong backlash from citizens at a public meeting, the city has now officially rescinded its proclamation recognizing April as Confederate History Month. Only one person spoke out against the recension.

Your take: Share your opinion in the comments section below. Do you side with Johnson or McCord? Do you think Johnson should have been allowed to continue after using a racial slur?

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