Community leaders respond to Waffle House attack, look for responses at packed Council meeting

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Bowling Green residents hear 12 lobbyists talk about social issues during the April 15 packed Council meeting. Madison Stump here campaigns for a city plastic bag ban.

Concerned citizens and organizations publicly reacted to a recent racist assault and presented possible responses at Monday’s well-attended City Council meeting.

Members from La Conexion, Not In Our Town and other community groups used lobby time at the meeting to present their lists of requests for the city to limit racism and other forms of hate.

These recommendations were made in the wake of a March 31 incident where two Wood County residents committed an alleged racist attack on a pair of Waffle House customers.

Beatriz Maya, director of the La Conexion social and cultural support group for Latino residents, said the attack “deeply affected and rightly outraged the BG community.” She thanked the city’s condemnation of the event and the Police Division’s investigative work but said that, after two public meetings, her group wanted the city to take specific actions to stop similar events from happening again.

Maya highlighted three major points her organization wanted the city to accomplish:

      Acknowledge and condemn the presence of “systemic racism” in the community.

      Adopt ordinances ensuring businesses and organizations approach hate incidents with “zero tolerance” policies.

      Support and revise more task force work in the city to better respond to hate incidents.

She also said, “We need to attract and retain a (younger and more) diverse population,” in regard to making the city more inclusive.

Maya also said the city’s previous attempts to encourage inclusion, including a 2017 move to establish Bowling Green as a welcoming city for immigrants, should receive continued support and growth.

Linda Lander, who also represented La Conexion, gave more of the group’s recommendations. These included requests for the city to gather statistics detailing hate incidents in the community and city school system, to encourage more establishments to adopt “bystander training” – training to encourage people to personally intervene in hate-based incidents they witness – and to help various late-night eateries in the area collaborate on anti-hate policies.

Lander said these actions would work to fight smaller aggressions, “not just hate crimes,” because “little, tiny cuts can cause just as much damage as a felonious assault.”

Other representatives from La Conexion repeated similar requests, saying it was important for the community to reward and recognize businesses and organizations for supporting anti-hate efforts. They recommended the release of stickers denoting La Conexion-approved establishments.

Sylvia Chandler, a BGSU personnel technician and a member of a committee to address this event, said she held “deep concern,” for the town’s establishments after this incident. She and other presenters encouraged the Waffle House to engage in employee training following the event to fight against future potential incidents.

Christina Yaniga, a Pemberville Village Council member, praised the city’s previous and current anti-hate efforts, highlighting its role in spearheading these issues. She also brought up the idea for Bowling Green to collaborate with surrounding towns in fighting racism.

Council member Bruce Jeffers thanked the crowd for attending different meetings on the matter of racism in the town. He said though “some of our statements are inadequate” regarding actual changes to the town’s racism issue, the Council wanted to approach that issue as effectively as possible.

Jeffers also said though some past efforts of tackling discrimination in the town were focused on economic equality, the city was “very aware that (the issue is) not just about jobs.”

Council president Michael Aspacher, acting as mayor in Richard Edwards’ absence, also thanked residents for their interest in improving the town’s welcoming image. He said this issue of local racism is a “community problem that is going to require a community solution.”

He also congratulated NIOT for its upcoming six-year anniversary in the town and for its role in bringing the community together to “combat hate and prejudice.”

Council members also voted on multiple resolutions, including ordinances that:

      Celebrated the Community Development Block Grant Program.

      Addressed snow removal fees and salt contracts.

      Set aside $1,010,000 to revamp city park facilities.

      Set aside money for and purchase real estate in the downtown area.

Member Sandy Rowland was also not in attendance.

Council will meet on May 6 in the City Administration Building at 7 p.m. The Community Improvement Committee will hold a meeting an hour prior to potentially address final concerns about a city-wide plastic bag ban.