Politics & Government

Mecklenburg commissioners chairman compares himself to Emmett Till

George Dunlap talks about the priorities of county commission

Dunlap says they'll focus on revaluation and as funders projects that help improve upward mobility in Mecklenburg County.
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Dunlap says they'll focus on revaluation and as funders projects that help improve upward mobility in Mecklenburg County.

At a meeting of the Mecklenburg County commissioners this week, Chairman George Dunlap compared his experiences to those of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American murdered in Mississippi in 1955.

His comments came at the end of a two-hour board meeting about racial inequalities.

“I’m happy to say that I serve with at least the majority of the board that I believe is trying to do the right thing,” Dunlap said. “But I can’t deny the fact that there are things that happen that amount to what happened to Emmett Till when he whistled at a white woman and lost his life.

“And while I’m not whistling at white women, there are things that I do that cause me to be treated the same as Emmett Till even though I haven’t lost my life, when you discredit or attempt to discredit my leadership because of something that you don’t respect.”

Though there were apparently no reporters present for the Tuesday afternoon meeting, the Observer listened to portions of the county’s videotape. The comments were first reported Friday on WBT’s Pat McCrory Show.

Dunlap could not be reached Friday.

It was unclear what his comments were referring to. But one commissioner believes they were aimed at her.

“I was shocked at his comment,” Democrat Pat Cotham told the Observer. “That was over the top about a very tragic thing from the 1950s.”

“Ever since I expressed my concern for the lack of transparency (earlier this month) he seemed to have directed it more personal to me . . . I kept saying it wasn’t about me or him it was about the people. I was talking about the process.”

At a meeting earlier this month Dunlap accused the media of racism for questioning whether it was legal for commissioners to negotiate changes to the proposed $2 billion county budget through phone calls and emails with each other. At that meeting he accused Cotham of leaking emails traded between him and other commissioners.

“The media supports Cotham and her antics,” Dunlap said at the time. “They perpetuate racism and stereotypes.”

McCrory, a Republican former governor and Charlotte mayor, blasted Dunlap for comparing himself to “the tragedy of a 14-year-old boy.”

“I have never in my 30 years of political involvement in this community seen or heard such an outrageous statement by a public official,” McCrory said. “This is the worst of the worst.”

Commissioner Susan Harden, like Dunlap a Democrat, said the chairman’s comments were in the context of a long discussion about racial disparities. The meeting featured a presentation by the group Race Matters For Juvenile Justice.

“His comments have been taken completely out of context,” said Harden. “You have to listen to his comments in the context of the entire meeting.”