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Kathleen Peters objects to Ken Welch’s Black Lives Matter virtual background

Peters said she’s heard from constituents who were offended by the image.

Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters wants her colleague, Commissioner Ken Welch, to remove the background he’s been using oduring official virtual meetings.

For the past couple of weeks, Welch has appeared in virtual meetings in front of an image of the Black Lives Matter street mural in South St. Pete in front of the Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum.

Peters said she’s received emails from constituents who are offended by the image.

“I have no problem with the artwork behind him personally, I don’t. But the bottom line is once you start one person having a sign and that is in fact a sign, even though it’s artwork – now what’s to say I’m not going to put up a piece of artwork about, abortion, just for an example,” she said Tuesday.

Peters had previously asked staff about the issue and, on Tuesday, brought it up at the end of a meeting discussing the local state of emergency and CARES Act funding related to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

She suggested creating some sort of “rule book” outlining policies and procedures for commissioners, a document that does not currently exist.

Welch was the only Commissioner to take issue with the entire premise. None of his colleagues weighed in on the debate over his Black Lives Matter background, but each said they’d be willing to consider a guiding policy document, noting past troubles with new Commissioner on-boarding.

Still, the controversy centered on Peters’ desire to have Welch remove his background.

“I know you’ve got a problem with my Black Lives Matter background,” Welch said to Peters, noting he has not received complaints and that the mural has received “worldwide acclaim.”

He compared displaying it at meetings to wearing a lapel pin supporting a certain cause.

“In 2020 in the world that we’re living in we need to speak out on issues,” Welch said. “This is a Zoom background and I will continue to use this Zoom background because I feel that strongly about it.”

No official action was taken.

The issue comes as racial tensions, though subsided since earlier this month, continues to spur protests over police brutality and racial injustice.

The Black Lives Mural was painted as St. Pete saw nightly protests demanding support for Black lives.

But the issue, among some, still remains controversial, as evidenced by the continued prevalence of people arguing all lives matter.

Following the meeting, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, whose city boasts the street mural, condemned Peters for calling for Welch to remove his background.

“It is just shameful that Commissioner Peters has an issue with a few letters of our BLM street mural being used as Commissioner Welch’s background. Her judgment is way off and her politics are clearly out of step with who are in Pinellas and St. Pete. Really unbelievable,” Kriseman wrote.

 

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Ray Blacklidge

    June 30, 2020 at 4:23 pm

    Who can argue against all lives matters? Why isn’t that considered common ground among us all?

    • PM

      July 1, 2020 at 10:44 pm

      It should be common ground.

  2. Bruce

    June 30, 2020 at 4:30 pm

    Ms. Peters is right–if for no other reason than a candidate should not appear in front of the insignia of what has become virtually a terrorist organization. If BLM changes its approach to one of communicating its position(s) in a civilized, non-violent way, rational people would not object to what Mr. Welch is doing. But the way that these people have behaved until now is unacceptable.

  3. William E. Foot

    June 30, 2020 at 6:11 pm

    There is always a problem when blacks speak out about racism and oppression. African Americans are accused of being whatever is bad at the time. In the sixties it was communist (still are in Miami); now they are accused of being anti-American and terrorist. But, where were these cowards, Bruce, Ray & Commissioner Peters who accused blacks of all these terrible atrocities when Trayvon Martin was killed, or about right in St. Pete when Jerald Walker was unarmed and mercilessly killed by a St. Pete police officer. How about when 35% of Army and US Marines go to fight for this country but come home to face racism all across St. Pete. Blacks can’t march, Blacks can’t kneel, Blacks can’t call out racism. What should they do…..put their chains back on and shut up? Bruce, Ray & Katy just admit you are part of the problem until you recognize what you are doing creates more problems. Address institutional and individual racism or you will have African Americans always expressing their very valid points that Racism needs to go!

  4. Bruce

    June 30, 2020 at 6:33 pm

    Mr. Foot–Your points are well taken and well enunciated. The issue is that they don’t address the points that I raised. The matters involving Messrs. Martin and Walker were atrocities and should be treated as such–but through the mechanisms that have been established for those purposes. Yes, they are slow; yes-they are frustrating. However, they are mechanisms that were established in a period when “atrocities” like these were not occurring, or at least as frequently. My point being that their establishment had the benefit of thought rather than raw emotion. I’ve found that the “R-card” is “played” probably too often. That is not to say that racism, institutional and otherwise, doesn’t exist. But it is to say that there exist other explanations for what some people view as adverse outcomes. If I can presume to speak for the others whom you addressed your post, what is objectionable is the manner in which BLM and its supporters has disregarded personal and property rights of others. Doing so does not advance their own nor garner support. Working through an established system does. That, and recognizing that there exist extremists of all races and creeds.

  5. Jim Donelon

    July 1, 2020 at 12:07 am

    Ms. Peters should tell all those Trump supporters who are complaining they should go back to their caves and tune into FOX faux.

  6. Nick Whitehead

    July 1, 2020 at 12:09 am

    I’ll take County Commissioner Kathleen Peters at her word that she doesn’t have an issue with Commissioner Welch’s BLM artwork on his Zoom background.  However, she is way off base here.  All Pinellas County Commissioners should be using BLM backgrounds and any other opportunities to show support of their black constituents, especially in this time when so many are finally are protesting the daily murders of black people at the hands of brutal and corrupt law enforcement thugs who terrorize practically every community in this country.

  7. Dorine

    July 1, 2020 at 12:35 pm

    Ken Welch is my County Commissioner and I feel strongly that during his official duties he should not promote any organization or group by displaying their logo, banner or artwork. He is supposed to represent all of his constituents, not just the ones he agrees with.

  8. Andrew Paul

    July 1, 2020 at 10:08 pm

    Unless we want to make a rule that photos of the city and its murals are not allowed as proper backsrops….. then a plain white should be used by all. How petty.

  9. PM

    July 1, 2020 at 10:43 pm

    We have important issues to discuss and problems to solve. To post a statement that creates divisiveness within its constituents is neither productive nor is it helpful to all..

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