Peaceful protest takes place in Belle Glade

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Courtesy of Robert C. Mitchell
BELLE GLADE — Robert C. Mitchell, (third from left, in front of #No Justice No Peace sign) and a few of the marchers stopped for a picture along their route, one taking a knee.

BELLE GLADE — A dozen or so organized peaceful demonstrators began a march to call attention to police brutality — and the deaths of many people of color from such incidents across the U.S. — through Belle Glade neighborhoods starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 6.

City Commission Seat A candidate Robert C. Mitchell, who conceded to incumbent Commissioner Michael C. Martin on Wednesday, June 3, after unofficial election results had been posted, organized the protest by posting a call in advance on his Facebook page, saying: “Black Lives Matter in Belle Glade! A peaceful protest in support of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arberry and Henry Bennett (affectionately known as Scooter Rat, the youth killed by a sheriff’s officer in Belle Glade); and the recent election, where the majority of the community says ‘they don’t know the 12-year seated Commissioner Michael Martin’.”

Mr. Mitchell said he was complimented by Commissioner Martin about their mutual no-slander campaign during their first conversation — which happened the day he conceded. He returned the sentiment but also added: “I charge Mr. Martin to get to know the citizens of Belle Glade. And I charge the community to get to know your commissioners as well and hold them to excellence.”

Commissioner Martin never responded to several phone messages and emails from this reporter, seeking to write a profile of him and air his views.

On his campaign Facebook page on Thursday, June 4, the challenger more or less alleged that the full Belle Glade City Commission had in fact preordained the outcome of the June 2 election by changing when it would happen.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Courtesy of Robert C. Mitchell
BELLE GLADE — The sign held by the woman who stands third from right in this picture refers to a Belle Glade youth shot by a sheriff’s officer.

“Last winter,” he wrote, “the Belle Glade City Commission voted to move the municipal election from March 17 to June 2 to make sure there was no change possible for our city.”

Furthermore, Mr. Mitchell said: “Wendy Link, our Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, told me this election should have cost $500, but because it was moved from March to June (Belle Glade was the ONLY Palm Beach County city that moved its municipal election), it wound up costing almost $20,000! We paid $20.88 a vote because only 12% of you knew there was an election,” he said. That is how much the city must pay the county for running the voting. Voter turnout was only 12.57% of the 7,630 active, registered voters — 958 people cast a ballot, and Mr. Martin won by 22 votes.

The former challenger said that city workers rallied around Commissioner Martin and that he felt as though he was actually running against Mayor Steve Wilson, “who was elected because he was unopposed.”

He said, “Every man, woman and child standing outside the poll working for Martin was a paid employee. I am proud that my supporters and workers volunteered, and that means they worked unpaid for me because they wanted positive change!”

In announcing the planned rally, Mr. Mitchell wrote: “Someone stated some negative energy might be forming, but not in our city. We have some great minds so let’s beat the system with our brain power! See y’all tomorrow and let’s get ready to celebrate freedom in our city in positive way.”

So the protest was not just about “Black Lives Matter” — the demonstrators were also trying to get across the message that voting is important.

Mr. Mitchell said about the rally:
“This march started at the local Lake Shore Park and ended on the lawn of the City Hall at its statue in the remembrance of the 1928 Hurricane victims. It also focused on solutions to address the economic hardship of a city whose city manager is making $230,000 yet the community is impoverished. (I) worked along with sheriff’s deputies to ensure a peaceful demonstration of all matters mentioned.
“No Justice, No Peace is our statement to America and our city officials draining our community of its value.”
Indeed, that was the chant of the marchers as they made their way to city hall.

Commissioner Martin retained office with a margin of 22 votes. His tally was 490 to Mr. Campbell’s 468, according to the official election results posted on the PBC election supervisor’s website.

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