Elected officials and community leaders throughout the Southampton issued the following statement this week in response to a Southampton Press investigative report into a call made to police by Southampton Village Trustee candidate Valerie Smith last summer in which the candidate is heard using a racial epithet against African-Americans, and in which she continued to use the language in the interview with the Southampton newspaper:
“The racial language reportedly used by Valerie Smith in her complaint to police last June, and her reported defense of that language, is particularly disturbing and unacceptable by the Southampton community and by the residents of Suffolk County. Our cherished Constitution asserts our Freedom of Speech. But that does not mean that we should abuse that Freedom with offensive, hateful, and disrespectful words to others. Words do hurt and it is important that every person, particularly those in positions of leadership in our communities or hoping to enter leadership positions, be most mindful of what they say and do. We urge all citizens to be mindful of what they say because what they say does make a difference for the peace and security of our communities. We specifically call upon Ms. Smith to retract her words and apologize for them.”
Signing onto the statement include Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, Village Mayor Mark Epley, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, the Southampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force and the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission.
Community organizations including Eastern Long Island NAACP, Southampton African American Museum, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork, Pyrrhus Concer Action Committee and The Center for Social Justice & Human Understanding: Featuring the Holocaust Collection also signed on to the statement.
Ms. Smith told the Southampton Press she is a “pioneer” in the historically African-American Hillcrest neighborhood of Southampton where she lives, and has repeatedly complained on Facebook about the black people who are her neighbors.
Advocacy groups on the East End are discussing plans to organize an event to open up dialogue in the community about these events.
The Southampton Press is hosting a village trustee debate next Monday, June 5 at 6 p.m. at the Southampton Arts Center, and local civil rights groups are gearing up to make a big showing at the debate.
The election will be held June 16.