Slavin implores Dover to take steps toward social justice

DOVER — The voices, banners and large crowds of demonstrators that have descended on the city of Dover numerous times over the past month have left a deep impact on Dover City Councilman Tim Slavin in terms of social justice and the need for change.

Councilman Slavin said this is the time to act and no longer the time to just talk as he addressed his colleagues during the “Councilmen’s Announcements’ segment, the final portion of the Dover City Council meeting on Monday night.

“I have seen and heard the demonstrations that now have been going on in our city for the past month, and in all likelihood, will continue,” said Councilman Slavin, who serves as the city’s at-large councilman. “The voices are clear, and the message is simple — Black lives matter. We all need to say those words publicly without qualification — Black lives matter.”

Tim Slavin

“I have lived a life of white privilege. In my youth I said and did things that were racist. There’s no easy explanation, nor any excuse for me to make. I can say with all sincerity that the only way for me to describe those times in my life is that I was Godless.

“To this day I remain embarrassed and anguished over those actions, but I pray for forgiveness – but I am Godless no more.”

Mr. Slavin was the lone councilman to vote No on the final reading of the city’s Fiscal Year ’20-’21 budget, which was passed by council at the meeting. He explained his reasoning.

“Since we began the process of crafting the budget, our world has changed, and more importantly Dover is on the way to real change,” he said. “That change is not being driven by city government, that change is being driven by a new generation of voices. My No vote on the budget is to acknowledge those voices and to ensure that we continue to dialogue about race and equity in Dover.

“I have worked hard to eliminate racism and inequity in my personal life and in society and I can honestly stand before you and say that my efforts over the last 14 years on council quite simply were not good enough. I failed. But I’m not done yet.”

Councilman Slavin also reiterated that he will not be seeking re-election to city council in 2021.

“I announced previously that I would not seek re-election to council in 2021. So to the doubters, I suggest some actions that we can take as a city to combat racism and inequity,” said Mr. Slavin. “I am not pandering to would-be voters. I stand by my decision not to seek re-election next year.

“Dover is primed for a new generation of leaders. We have heard the voices of that generation in our streets and now we must show them that we are listening.”

He pointed to a council presentation from a consulting firm more than six months ago that presented a study on diversity and inclusion for Dover. They cited that in their findings that the police department was facing challenges in attracting, hiring and retaining minority officers. The city looked at the data, looked at the process used, discussed potential problems and talked about ways to address that.

“We also looked at a single photographic image,” Councilman Slavin said, of a photo that projected all white police officers. “That image was on the top page of our website for the city of Dover Police Department. The consultants strongly suggested that we look at that image that we project to the community and that perhaps was one of the causes of our challenge. Today, many months later, that image remains on the front page.

“It is an image that, in my opinion, is not reflective of our city and Chief (Tom) Johnson and Mayor (Robin) Christiansen. Let’s take this small step together and I would ask that we have that image taken down immediately.”

With that said, Councilman Slavin turned to his colleagues on city council for help in addressing social issues that are facing the city of Dover.

Ralph Taylor

He implored fellow Councilman Ralph Taylor to help give citizens a voice in how to maintain a safe community. Mr. Taylor spent 20 years as an officer for the Dover police.

“Councilman Taylor, I need your help,” he said. “The time has come in our city for citizens to have a voice in how we maintain a safe community. There are many models across our country for how citizens are empowered with a voice on how a community is policed.

“We need to have that dialogue and our citizens need to have that voice. I’m asking for your help in ensuring that’s an inclusive and ongoing dialogue that we have with citizens.”

He then turned to Councilmen David Anderson and Roy Sudler Jr. to work on renaming the New Street Playground after Bishop L.T. Blackshear.

“When our good friend Councilman Wallace Dixon passed away, I had the honor of sitting with Bishop (Thomas L.) Holsey at his service,” said Mr. Slavin. “Bishop Holsey and I talked about the long tradition of Black churches in Dover and he cited the work of Bishop L.T. Blackshear in not only running a church but providing so much for the Black community in Dover.”

He asked the councilmen to co-sponsor the renaming of the playground and for Councilman Anderson to place it on the next agenda for the Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee.

Councilman Slavin said there was another thing that the city passed on recently that he would like to see them revisit.

“We’ve heard so many good ideas that, quite frankly, we have passed on as a city in recent years,” he said. “Thanks to Councilman (Tanner) Polce, we were offered funding to embed social workers with our police, as are being done in other parts of the country, other parts of Delaware and in other parts of Kent County. We were politely turned down by the police department.

“Chief Johnson, I would politely ask that we have that discussion again.”

The discussion brought forth by Mr. Slavin brought tears to the eyes of Councilman Sudler.

“I am really appreciative of what Councilman Slavin has brought to us as a council,” said Councilman Sudler. “He realizes the kinds of issues that people of color in the Dover community are facing and is actively taking steps to address them. He realizes that it’s not the color in a person’s skin that puts value into what that person is worth, and I truly appreciate that.”

Councilman Slavin said it will take many steps together – both small and big – to try to level what has been a long unbalanced playing field.

“What I’ve heard in the protests were the new voices that are being heard and listened to is a simple message – the status quo will no longer suffice in how we all maintain a safe community,” he said. “We know that we cannot arrest our way out of the opioid crisis. We cannot arrest our way out of the challenge of homelessness. We know we cannot arrest our way out of the issue of poverty.

“But we can turn the corner, we can take these steps small and big together, and most importantly we can listen.”