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A younger generation in District 4 is finding its voice.

In the weeks since District 4 City Councilwoman Myrtle Cole said black-on-black crime justified racial profiling by law enforcement, a split has emerged in the community. Some have called for her resignation. Established community leaders have urged reconciliation.

Cole made the controversial remarks at a July 26 City Council meeting.

“If we can address the black-on-black crime in our community, I think we would be better off than saying there’s [racial profiling]. Yeah, there is, because they’re stopping blacks who shoot blacks,” she said.

She also referred to young attendees of her town hall meeting held the week prior as disruptive and disrespectful.

Cole later apologized for the initial comments on race, but the reaction to her remarks has revealed a generational divide among community leaders and residents active in southeastern San Diego neighborhoods.

At a subsequent City Council meeting, younger residents rallied wearing shirts that said “Resign Or Else.” Older constituents, meanwhile, condemned the remarks, but accepted Cole’s apology and said they hoped she could stay in office.

“I felt really offended, personally,” Armand King said at the meeting. “I’m 35 years old and I’ve had to go through this since I was a kid. Racially profiled, pictures taken of me, sat on the curb for no reason – not even committing a crime. This is something emotional and touching to me when I hear this come out somebody that’s supposed to be representing me. Please resign.”

“This is our Council member and she cannot represent us. She does not represent us … she does not represent our spirit or our energy and we want her out,” said Channing Moreland, 28.

Several community elders sang a different tune.

“Our heart is really heavy right now,” said Kathleen Harmon, a longtime activist in the community. “I think the only answer to this problem is, Myrtle, we have to listen to the young people. I’m asking the young people today, let’s go meet with Myrtle, let’s give her an opportunity to change. I’m 85 years old, I’ve been where y’all been. I agree with what you did, I take my hat off to you and I say, ‘Let’s come together, divided we can’t stand. Let’s put everything behind and it’s praying time now. Let’s turn this around. And I think we can.’”

Another longtime community leader, Bishop George D. McKinney, 84, likewise recognized that the responses were split by age.

“I want to commend these young men and women who are involved in the struggle for justice and for righteousness,” he said. “She’s apologized. It calls for the response of forgiveness and returning to the table to continue in brotherhood and understanding and mutual respect. I appeal to the young people to follow through with whatever suggestions are made in terms of continuing the communication and working together to achieve the goals that we all hold very important and very dear to us. ”

So why were the reactions so different?

Barry Pollard, 62, founder and executive director at the community group Urban Collaborative Project, said the generational split is rooted in a lack of trust and support.

“The next generation is in battle for their piece of the pie, and the declining generation is resisting,” Pollard said. “Combine that with our lack of overall effectiveness in improving our community over the years, leaves them little in which to be attracted.”

But he indicated the younger generation might be right: Maybe it’s time for a new approach.

“Wearing my elder hat, I believe it is always better to respond rather than react,” Pollard said. “We would benefit from a plan designed to put a candidate in office that best represents our interests rather than good intended energy wasted. The next election for D4 is 2018. It is time.”

A coalition of community members and leaders continue to meet and call for Cole’s resignation.

“We all want conditions to improve in District 4,” said Reverend Shane Harris, 24, president of the San Diego chapter of the National Action Network. “We just have different approaches.”

NAN and other community organizations planned a protest and call for resignation in front of Cole’s southeastern San Diego district office two weeks ago, but postponed the event due to a police-involved shooting the night before. A new date for the protest has not been scheduled.

Rachel Evans

Rachel Evans is a reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at rachel.evans@voiceofsandiego.org

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