Your Views: Time to unify, not divide

Police Chief Michael L. Brown at a protest in Old Town on June 5. (Photo/Missy Schrott)

To the editor:

I commend Mayor Justin Wilson for seeking to bring some measure of comfort to those in our community rightfully distressed by the killing of George Floyd in his letter to the community, “Message from Mayor Justin Wilson about the Killing of George Floyd.”

I agree that watching the last moments of breath squeezed out of Floyd’s life was horrifying. Floyd’s death brings to the surface issues that need to be addressed in our community and our nation. I applaud Wilson for emphasizing this point.

But, recognizing the difficulties of the times, the emotional nature of these issues and the need for all of us to be sensitive to the feelings of those who have faced discriminatory practices or are threatened by them, I respectfully suggest our mayor could have taken a different approach.

Wilson proclaims, without providing evidence, that a “culture of white supremacy pervades” our city. Sure, as a community we can be better – and we must. But is there a more inclusive, diverse, compassionate and giving city or county in the Commonwealth? These attributes, and the sense of community they help engender, were among the factors that drew my wife and I to raise our children in this city.

He writes that our city’s economy “perpetuates wealth for those who have it and hinders social mobility for those that lack it.” Yet, while there are impediments that need to be addressed, has there been, in the history of mankind, a society more mobile than ours?

The same crowd has controlled our city for decades. They have rigged the system so those with whom they fundamentally disagree can’t get elected to anything. Instead of taking responsibility, the tactic appears now to claim that to make things right, a radical “urbanist” agenda for which there is no electoral mandate must be imposed on the city.

This is an agenda that calls for using our tax dollars to spur more density in the midst of a pandemic; build apartments on top of, or adjacent to, our elementary schools; eliminate single family housing zoning in a city where less than 30 percent of available land is so zoned – as opposed to 77 percent in Fairfax and 42 percent in Arlington; destroy green spaces; and intentionally clog up our roadways in the hopes of forcing more residents to take public transportation.

The mayor is right to point out that “our City is full of inequities, some glaring, some subtle.” Moving forward we cannot, as a community, nor as a nation, return to the status quo ante when it comes to addressing these inequities, particularly those present in our community.

I cannot walk in our mayor’s shoes, nor do I profess to do so. And his heart is in the right place. But I respectfully propose that sowing divisions among us is not the answer.

Rather, the times now call for leadership that seeks to bring our community together. A good start may be to empanel a special commission comprised of representatives reflecting the diversity – including political – of our community to develop recommendations as to how we can address those inequities and make our city more inclusive. Maybe there are other ideas.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked that “a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.” Let Floyd’s tragic death be the spark that leads to a consensus in Alexandria on addressing the inequities to which the mayor refers.

So, rather than impose on our city a divisive cookie-cutter “urbanist” agenda developed and promoted by people who do not even live here, let us work together as a community to develop and implement policies that will make Alexandria more inclusive, our society more mobile and opportunity more accessible. In that way, we can best serve all who live here and set an example for the nation.

-Darryl Nirenberg, Alexandria