Editor’s Note: Below is a press statement from Rev. Lewis Stewart, President of the United Christian Leadership Ministry, regarding the ongoing controversy of statements made by former WHEC Meteorologist. Stewart held a press conference Friday to discuss the situation and says more should be done to address race relations in Rochester.
The controversy surrounding the phrase made by Jeremy Kappell in reference to Dr. Martin Luther Coon King Jr. demonstrates the need to have a frank and in-depth discussion regarding race and racism not only in America but in the greater Rochester area.
Mr. Kappell’s reference to “coon” has a long cultural history in this nation. The references to “coon” “shine “spearchucker” “sambo” “nigra” “nigger” all have been used to characterize and dehumanize black people.
In the late 1960’s, Anthony Imperiali of the Italian American League of Newark, New Jersey referred to Dr. Martin Luther Coon. While I was a student at the State University College at Brockport and a candidate for the presidency of the Brockport Student Government, the graffiti on the bathroom wall stated Lewis Coon Stewart.
White racists have been using this derogatory and scatological nomenclature for decades.
Despite Kappell’s excuse that he engaged in misspeak and was tongue tied when he used the word “coon.”
He rationalized, “This was two words I mashed together incorrectly.” “What I said wasn’t even a word, it was a sound and people, I believe read incorrectly into that.”
Well, I have news for Mr. Kappell. We read correctly into what he said. This was not misspeak, it was not a slip of the tongue, it was not word salad, but a deliberate attempt to make a racist joke at the expense of Dr. King.
His use of the word “coon” was intentional, offensive, derogatory and indefensible.
The General Manager of WHEC TV took the correct and appropriate action of relieving Mr. Kappell of his employment.
Let’s not blame Mayor Warren nor President Scott for his being fired. Kappell was dis-employed prior to the Mayor’s and President Scott’s statements.
Kappell did this to himself and the General Manager did the firing.
People have written and called in for Kappell and the Mayor to have dialogue and that he Kappell needs to be forgiven.
Biblically, how can one be forgiven when they cannot honestly admit that they have sinned. Mr. Kappell has made excuse after excuse. Forgiveness involves true repentance. Kappell has not repented. He continues to lie and make excuses instead of apologizing and coming clean. In order for one to be forgiven, scripture tells us to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance. Kappell has not done so and refuses to do so.
He is not the only one in the media who has made a racist comment.
In 2004, when William Johnson was Mayor, Bob Lonsberry, a defender of racism and a race baiter likened Mayor Johnson to an orangutan. He too lost his job at that time but at least he apologized.
However, Mr. Lonsberry to this date continues to engage in fear mongering and race baiting.
This intentional racist remark has demonstrated the racist hell we all live in. It shows our dirty laundry.
On Facebook, one of Kappell’s supporters is attempting to rally supporters to protest his firing. This is absurd. The protest was or is to be at City Hall. Why? The Mayor was not the cause of his unemployment. It was WHECTV. Again, references are made to Kappell’s comment as merely ‘a slip of the tongue.” Also, business advertisers have either threatened to withdraw or withdrew their ads from WHECTV. As far as I am concerned, decent people should boycott those businesses once they have been revealed.
There are some who will always attempt to minimize or dismiss the pain and suffering of the oppressed.
They will say what they wish, and when caught, come up with a lame excuse, and transfer the blame elsewhere. This is what Kappell, Lonsberry and their followers have done.
However, this controversy should serve as a springboard to challenge the entrenched cultural, systemic, structural and institutional racism which exists in our society and right here in Rochester.
How do their policies and practices based on implicit bias impact the poor and people of color.
These types of racisms: cultural, institutional, structural and systemic need to be identified, confronted, uprooted and eradicated.
We are just not grappling with individual racist behavior but racist policies and practices in the workplace.
For example, in terms of the media, more work needs to be done by General Managers of each media station regarding the following Five Pillars of Improvement:
- Their commitment to diversity.
- Promotion of key people of color to decision making positions and anchors of news.
- Promotion of people of color into roles that pay more, have more visibility and responsibility.
- Creating real opportunities for advancement.
- Having the news team reflect the community.
I will be reaching out to General Managers regarding the 5 pillars of improvement.
Racism exists, what we will as a society do to eradicate this cancer in our midst.
The derogatory comment by Kappell has shown people who they really were all the time. It has aroused unreasonableness, vitriol, ignorance and stupidity. It has freed the racists to be racists. And there are many people who support racist behavior.
What will we do to challenge racist cultural, institutional, structural and systemic policies and practices here in Rochester and Monroe County: In our worship centers, work places, and other institutions. That is the real challenge.
Rev. Lewis Stewart