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Joe Henderson: Kathleen Peters picked the wrong issue and time to make a stand

She should have stopped with “I have no problem with the artwork.”

If Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters has harbored any idea that the Black Lives Matter movement will go away soon, she probably knows by now it won’t happen.

She found out the hard way, too. She committed an unforced error that begs the question, Commissioner, what exactly were you thinking? Better yet, were you thinking at all?

It began during the Commission’s virtual meeting Tuesday. As reported by Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics, Peters told Commissioner Ken Welch he should use a different background for his Zoom image.

Welch, the only Black on the Commission, appears before a photo of the Black Lives Matter street mural in front of the Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum in South St. Pete.

The mural drew widespread attention after artists painted it during protests following high-profile attacks on Black men and women. The BLM movement took on renewed momentum following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, snuffing out a man’s life who last words included calling out for his mother.

Yet Peters said she received emails from people upset with the background Welch uses.

Let’s stop there for a minute.

I don’t doubt that some folks in St. Pete don’t like the background Welch chose, and that’s just tough. Get over it. What they’re really saying is they want the issue to go away because it makes them uncomfortable.

And that’s just too bad. What about the people who took to the streets to protest the treatment of Black and Brown people?

Peters picked the wrong time and the wrong issue to make a stand. I’m being kind by saying it was tone-deaf.

They like to say all lives matter, which, of course, they do. No one says otherwise, but that tactic pivots away from the point. Sometimes things need special emphasis, and this is one of them.

Think of the times this nation rallied around a cause or supported a city in crisis.

When a lunatic murdered 59 people during a shooting rampage in Las Vegas, the hashtag #VegasStrong became a global sign of support. I didn’t hear anyone say, “Hey, Poughkeepsie is strong, too.”

But Welch should change to soothe those gentle souls who would rather not think about what someone else’s world is like?

Peters explained her logic with one of the most passive-aggressive arguments I’ve heard in a while.

“I have no problem with the artwork behind him personally, I don’t,” she said.

“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 should have stopped with “I have no problem with the artwork.”

It’s interesting that Peters received complaints, but Welch has not. You might think if someone had a beef with Welch’s backdrop, they would go to the source.

Anyway, Mayor Rick Kriseman essentially told Peters to stick a sock in it.

In a tweet, Kriseman declared: “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.”

Welch, meanwhile, has no intention of changing.

“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.”

He should do just that, because it matters, just like Black lives.

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I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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