A statement released by Republican Montgomery County Commissioner Joseph Gale has sparked a broad response from local residents and public officials. Gale’s June 1 press statement was in response to protests and violence, both in Philadelphia and nationwide, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died while in the custody of Minneapolis Police.
A viral video of former police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck, while Floyd was captured saying he could not breathe, has become a tipping point in a decades-long movement protesting police brutality and racial injustice.
Chauvin has been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and charged with murder, but this decision has not quelled the anger of protestors in many cities across the nation. Peaceful protests, as well as violence and widespread looting, has taken place over the past week in many areas — Philadelphia included.
“What we saw this weekend in Philadelphia was not a protest — it was a riot,” Gale wrote in the first sentence of his public statement. “In fact, nearly every major city across the nation was ravaged by looting, violence and arson.”
“The perpetrators of this urban domestic terror are radical left-wing hate groups like Black Lives Matter,” Gale continued. He classified the objective of the Black Lives Matter movement as one “to unleash chaos and mayhem without consequence by falsely claiming they, in fact, are the victims.”
“In addition, too many Democrat mayors are sympathizers of these far-left radical enemy combatants,” Gale wrote. “As a result, their misguided empathy has enabled a level of unfettered criminality never witnessed before in American history.”
Gale included Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney in the category of sympathetic Democrat mayors.
Gale not only targeted Mayor Kenney in the statement but also described Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw as “seem[ing] to share her boss’s sentiment.”
Gale referenced the recent vandalism of the Center City Frank Rizzo statue, and he stated that “the only way to stop this vandalism and chaos is by allowing law enforcement to do their job of enforcing the law.”
“Police cannot continue to ‘give space’ to opportunists and lawbreakers,” Gale wrote.
He emphasized the need for “law-and-order” and “leaders “who will uphold the laws they swore to defend when they placed their hand on the Holy Bible on inauguration day.”
“The broken promises of failed Democrat mayors like Jim Kenney have led not just to broken windows, but a broken public trust that must be restored before more cities are shattered,” Gale concluded.
His fellow county commissioners, Democrats Valerie Arkoosh and Kenneth Lawrence, rejected his characterizations of current unrest.
“I kneel with every person who protests the loss of Mr. Floyd’s life and each life before his,” Arkoosh posted on Twitter. “We must join together to denounce whose hateful, racist rhetoric seeks to divide us.
Lawrence echoed Arkoosh’s comments, while denouncing Gale’s public statement. In his tweet, Lawrence also added he will not reprint Gale’s words, adding he “completely rejects his hateful, false rhetoric.”
“I denounced the words of Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale,” he posted on Twitter. “I believe we must treat each other with human decency, respect and kindness...As a black man and a father, the past few months have been very difficult and intense for me personally. As a public servant, sometimes I struggle with what to say or not to say, how to use my voice to heal not harm. But as a black man, I am angry, sad, frightened and numb.”
Arkoosh and Lawrence released a joint statement on June 2 in response to Gale’s June 1 statement. They detailed the democracy that celebrates the rights of citizens to express themselves without fear, a joint desire for change in the criminal justice system and an end to institutionalized racism and clarified that Gale’s opinion does not reflect the sentiments of the county government.
“To our entire Black community: We see you,” they wrote. “We hear you. We stand with those who are calling out the systemic racism and violence toward people of color in our country.”
Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny, the first Democrat to hold the post in county history, also responded to Gale’s statement.
“I did not intend to comment on (Gale’s) post until I was asked by many of my deputies and command staff when coming to work this morning,” Kilkenny wrote in a statement on June 2. “Commissioner Gale’s statements are offensive both to me and many of my deputies and dangerous to public safety.”
Kilkenny continued to speak to the county’s support of citizen’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest the murder of George Floyd and deeply-rooted inequities of the United States’ criminal justice system. He added a statement of support to local police in their respective efforts to protect communities from looting and property destruction.
Public officials have not been the only ones to denounce Gale’s comments about the protests and Black Lives Matter. Philadelphia Sixers Tobias Harris has joined in the many calling on Gale to resign.
“I honestly can’t believe what I’m reading,” Harris tweeted on Tuesday, June 2. “@JoeGalePA Black Lives Matter a hate group?! This statement and your whole press release at that is disgusting to read. RESIGN!”
Not all protests in the greater Philadelphia area have been as violent as some demonstrations in Philadelphia, which have garnered national media attention.
On Sunday in Pottstown, a group of 30 protestors marched and were joined by Pottstown Police in taking a knee, a sign of solidarity with the movement opposing police brutality against African Americans.
Peaceful protests have also been held in Norristown, a municipality of Montgomery County that has taken steps to distance itself from Gale.
“Mr. Gale is an elected member of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, and the views in his statement are in no way a reflection of, or related to, the Municipality of Norristown,” Public Information Officer Kevin Tustin issued in a statement.
A statement posted on Limerick township’s website, signed by all five supervisors, denounced Floyd’s death and supported peaceful protests. The statement also read, “The message of those who chose to protest in a peaceful way is now lost by those who now take to the streets to riot, damage property, loot and cause civil unrest.”
A petition calling for Gale’s resignation has been posted on change.org, and the petition reached 50,000 signatures as of Tuesday night.
“His assertion that the protests taking place across the country have led to ‘a level of unfettered criminality never witnessed before in American history’ directly overlooks the 400 years of slavery and oppression that have unlawfully and immorally taken away the lives of millions of black Americans in this country,” the petition states. “In order to create the peace Commissioner Gale so desperately speaks of, it would be in the county’s best interest for him to step down immediately.
Students at the University began sharing Gale’s statement and calling for his resignation on Tuesday evening, after a day of black squares posted with the caption #blackouttuesday took over Instagram. Many shared Gale’s email and the phone number of the Montgomery County general office.
“Joe and I grew up in the same county, same Catholic community and same township, but our values could not differ more — and I blame fear for this divide,” recent graduate Brett Schratz said. “Joe’s bigoted track record comes out of his fear that ‘his’ America is slipping away. Well, Joe, it is, and I am happy it is because your America never was or is everyone’s America. It never even was America.”
Recent graduate Allie Arleo also shared her thoughts on Gale’s statement.
“Like so many, I was outraged by Commissioner Gale’s press statement,” she said. “There is no space for both his failure to lead and his rhetoric that seeks to silence black voices and delegitimize the Black Lives Matter movement. As citizens of Montgomery County, we must channel our anger into action to bring about effective change. We must work together to remove him from his position of power.