(WEHT) — After a weekend of peaceful protests in Evansville, Mayor Lloyd Winnecke joined Eyewitness News Brad Byrd to talk about recent events.
Brad Byrd: This is InDEPTH. If there is a title I would give 2020, it would be the lost year. COVID-19 job losses, our way of life impacted, racial injustice and the conversation shifting to how white and black America see our country now. In the middle of all that, once again ,our cities and law enforcement is facing the question- is it time for a change? Joining me now is Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke. Mayor, glad to see you tonight. First off, I know you were very concerned leading up to this past weekend’s protests but after it was all over and the sun set with no violence, what did you learn about this community?
Lloyd Winnecke: I think my feelings that I’ve held in my heart for a long time were affirmed and that is that the people of Evansville and all of Southwest Indiana, the Tri-State have big hearts. That is, we recognize when we disagree, and we recognize opportunities for expressing disagreement, and we can do so in a peaceful way. And I think it also affirmed to me that we all have justice and goodness in our hearts and we saw justice and goodness in hundreds of hearts Saturday night and not just during the evening, but during the white coat rally and the family rally earlier. We saw a lot of people coming out saying you know what, our society deserves better.
BB: Chief Billy Bolin and I talked via Skype during that protest, Mayor. At that time, the issue of some cities taking steps to defund their police departments was not front and center. What is your initial reaction to that?
LW: Parts of me understand the emotional attraction to that cry, but at the end of the day I come down on it this way, Brad- every city, Evansville, pick a city in the United States, in a world, every city needs law and order and defunding police or disbanding a police agency I don’t think will do anything but increase crime. So as appealing as that may sound to many, I think it’s an emotional reaction and I think we need to take a deep breath, step back and look for more substantive ways to address inequalities in our society but defunding police, I don’t think is the answer.
BB: Well, there are some things going on behind the scenes Mayor. As you know, I’ve talked on air with NAACP president Reverend Gerald Arnold who is working with Chief Bolin regarding police reform. Mayor, what would you like to see changed?
LW: The chief and his command staff, with community leaders, review police operating guidelines on a regular basis. They’re doing that again. I will tell you that I think we’re on the right side of almost all of our training. I think some of our training may need some tweaks, but that’s about it. I think the need for greater reform really will come at the state and federal level because at the end of the day, law enforcement agencies are enforcing state and federal statutes.
BB: Mayor, I notice you have your E is for Everyone pin on and you love to wear that. You had a very memorable moment last week at the front door of the building you work in, the Civic Center. You said these words- “E wasn’t always for everyone, and sadly vestiges from the past still exist.” An ABC News poll, I’m speaking now, says three out of four Americans believe there is racial injustice in this country. How does your city, our city fit into that equation?
LW: When we started down the E path three years or four years or so ago, we knew that not everyone would feel E is for them. It was and is a way to brand our community, our region, our city, but it’s also, there’s a huge aspirational component to this and so I think this gives us, our city, an advantage over other cities. It gives us a platform from which to have very difficult and challenging discussions. So we have something to live up to and that is to make sure people, E is for them. And we know that it’s not going to happen overnight. We knew that when we launched it a few years ago, but it certainly gives us an opportunity for improvement. We have a goal. Many communities don’t have a defined goal. I think E gives us a goal.
BB: Mayor, you were a journalist and a newsman many years ago. And as you well know, COVID-19 was dominating virtually everyone’s news rundowns up until May 25, Memorial Day night. The protesters coming together now, since that fateful night, and COVID-19 that is just one more thing, the last thing we need now is a spike simply because people are exercising their right to assemble and protest.
LW: You’re right, but I will tell you this. So, a week ago Saturday, I attended the first major protest for peace on the riverfront, and there were several hundred people there. I was very pleasantly surprised, the overwhelming majority of those protesters had masks on. So I think we can, as a community, express our outrage over inequalities, while also practicing using good common sense so we can practice strong public health. So I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive and I’m proud to see that both nights a large number of people had masks on and exercise their First
BB: This is undoubtedly your most challenging year as mayor, as it is for many city leaders throughout the nation – the pandemic, the economic impact and race relations here at home. Can you give me a thumbnail or Cliff Notes reflection on that for you?
LW: Well, I don’t know that we have enough time. But you know yes, it’s challenging. But I would say this- what I’ve relied on during all this is faith and relationships. No one person, not a mayor, not me, not a mayor in any city can affect change by his or herself. We need people to come together to do it for the greater good. And I’ve relied on people all over the city, whether it’s about race relations or COVID. The advances we’ve made and the advances we will continue to make will be because people come together and it’s not all about who’s in the chair of the mayor’s office at any given time, it’s about how we come together as a community.
BB: Mayor Winnecke, thank you so much for joining us, as always stay safe through all this.
LW: Thank you Brad, you too.