Smithfield Selma Chamber, East Smithfield Improvement Organization Condemn Recent Hate Crime Incident

Tony Nixon, Chairman of the East Smithfield Improvement Organization discusses concerns about race relations with the Smithfield Town Council Tuesday night. WTSB Photo
Tony Nixon, Chairman of the East Smithfield Improvement Organization discusses concerns about race relations with the Smithfield Town Council Tuesday night. WTSB Photo

The Smithfield Selma Chamber of Commerce went on record Tuesday night at the Smithfield Town Council meeting condemning the recent actions of vandals “who painted words of hate” in Smithfield.

Chamber President Rick Childrey said in a prepared statement, “This repulsive exploit is not free speech. It is hurtful, disgusting behavior, and reflects terribly on our entire community and county. The Chamber mission includes the promotion of economic, educational and social well-being in the Smithfield-Selma area and Johnston County.”

On June 24th, someone spray painted the N-word and “KKK” on the side of an African American woman’s SUV while it was parked on Kaye Drive. 

“One of the main reasons people come to a community is the inclusiveness and acceptance of its residents,” Childrey said. “A major part of the Chamber’s ongoing community vision is to embrace people and cultures. We see the great diversity of citizens in our towns as a major asset as we move forward into the 21st century. Our businesses realize that an attractive, safe, inclusive community is ultimately good for the economy and will help continue to bring valuable jobs to our area.”

“The Chamber salutes the efforts of the East Smithfield Improvement Organization, the Smithfield and Selma Police Departments, and the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office in creating good discussion about inclusiveness, the roles and responsibilities of all citizens and the common efforts of law enforcement to insure continued good quality of life in our towns. We hope these efforts will lead to further sharing of cultural experiences and individual uniqueness with other organized events and programs. We expect that the perpetrators of this hate crime are found and brought to justice. A strong message must be sent that this type of activity is unacceptable, morally wrong and unwelcome in the Smithfield-Selma area.”

Tony Nixon, Chairman of the East Smithfield Improvement Organization, a group committed to the betterment of our community and an advocate for those underserved, addressed the council and mayor Tuesday night.

Nixon said, “As long as I can remember our community has been known locally, regionally and even nationally as the home of the Ku Klux Klan a group known for intimidation, exclusion and hatred. The sign that welcomed many to our town with the words “KKK Welcomes  you to Smithfield” came down in 1977. Fast forward to 2015 someone spray paints a vehicle with a racial slur and the letters KKK , we are reminded once again of the ugliness of our prejudicial and contentious past. Is this what we as a town want to be known as today?”

“What will our elected officials do to insure the safety and pursuit of happiness of its citizens?  …We can not and must not allow anyone to take us back as a town to those days of spray painting, cross burnings, masked robed marches and other acts of violence and intimidation towards people of color.  We cannot change our past, however we can influence our future. Will that future be led by those who desire to do what’s right or those who are simply afraid to take a stand?”

Nixon also presented a letter to the Town from Elder Kenneth J. Matthews, Overseer of the Shiloh Christian Church Disciples of Christ.  Matthews letter read:

To the Mayor, Member of the Council and fellow citizens of the Smithfield and Johnston County area;good evening.

Tonight I wish to call your attention to the sleeping giant that has awakened within our nation and within our community.

It truly has nothing to do with a flag, but moreover an attitude that has existed and persisted from the dawn of humanity; prejudice.

There has always existed an attitude of selfishness and greed that are the elements of prejudice.

The effects of greed can be felt throughout our society. Corporations have crushed the lives of countless people in their quest to make a profit. As a society, we have sought luxuries at the expense of workers and their wages. We put our material comforts ahead of justice for others. God is not pleased with this. Instead of wanting to hear the truth, we would rather hear counselors tell us about how much more money we are going to get or what great legacy we will leave as a family heritage.

It would be wrong for me not to inform you that the Lord wants us to repent of our evil ways so we can hear the truth and seek justice for our fellow Johnstonians who are still being oppressed.

Greed has been the driving force behind much of the injustice of our past and present. So often, society’s message is to get all we can, even at the expense of others. But the true higher calling for humanity is for us to seek out the welfare of the poor and weak. One way that we can do that is fight against modern slavery, and its ideals that continue to plague our society.

There is clearly one thing we should have learned in this community by now, and that is that we cannot justify evil and wrongdoing in our community, nor those who still perpetrate it upon others.

As I close this statement, let me reflect that of the over 6 decades I have been connected with the town of Smithfield, and expressedly East Smithfield. I can’t remember a time when I observed a group of Caucasian males parked in a predominately black neighborhood, at a black church, taking their dirt bikes off their truck and race around the parking lot of that church, but this is what happened on last Thursday at Shiloh Christian Church, in the Belmont section of East Smithfield, in an area once known as Johnston Bottom. It was the attitude these young men exhibited after being asked to cease this activity and remove themselves from the premises; it was one of defiant disdain.

No, I have never seen anything like this until the events of Charleston, SC and the call for the removal of the Confederate flag.

It is way past time for Kum Ba Yah meetings and time for a commitment toward actions that will eradicate the things that divide us as a community.

I stand ready for the reactionary meeting, so we can become proactive for the future of our community.

Elder Kenneth J. Matthews, Overseer

Shiloh Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Smithfield Mayor John Lampe thanked those who attended. “I appreciate everyone coming here and saying something… It should have been done a long time ago.”