Eddie Smotherman and an organizer of the NAACP’s candidate town hall disagree on the details of why the city councilman did not participate in the forum Monday, but the reason centers around the use of masks.
The Murfreesboro Chapter of the NAACP and Zion Christian Ministries held the “Unity in the Community” town hall at the church and included city council and county school board candidates. Smotherman, a councilman who is running for re-election, was invited but did not participate.
Kerry D. Malone, or “DaVoice,” as he is known as a local sports announcer, was an organizer for the NAACP.
Video playback shows two organizers wearing a mask, but Malone and the candidates, seated in the front of the venue, not wearing a mask.
When asked about the absence of masks, Malone said he and the candidates elected not to wear a mask while speaking since masks can alter speech. Also, it would be difficult to speak for two hours wearing a mask, but added they wore a mask before the event while speaking to the audience, he said.
Smotherman said he was invited to participate by email and does not recall seeing a notice about masks being required. A flyer that was sent later had such a notice, which he did not pay attention to, he said. He also said he would have thought masks applied to audience members, not speakers.
Smotherman said he arrived early and went to the stage, where a woman told him he needed to put on a mask. He said there is no law saying he had to wear a mask unless he is on private property. He said he was told he could not participate.
“My feeling is my liberties and my rights supersede anybody’s social preference,” Smotherman said. “I respect those who are concerned about the pandemic, but for those healthy people who are about, we cannot continue to shut down our economy and we cannot send signals we are in a state of panic. I explained to the lady I would social distance.”
Smotherman said he was asked to leave, but the situation was “cordial.”
Despite Smotherman’s absence, Malone said the event went “amazingly well” and in less than 24 hours there were more than 3,000 online views. He said organizers wanted to promote unity.
“Our first goal was to make sure those in attendance … knew we care about their health first, “Malone said. “That’s why the event was promoted as an event in compliance with CDC guidelines, so we asked those in attendance to wear a mask.”
Malone said organizers did temperature checks on people as they entered and were adamant about people wearing masks. He said an officer of the church working at the door asked Smotherman about a mask and that is when the disagreement started. The pastor and an official with the NAACP joined the conversation.
“It was very disturbing we got to that point,” Malone said.
Malone said that Smotherman told organizers that wearing a mask would violate his civil rights.
“I shared with him we are not in it to offend anyone, but we are in it to make sure we feel safe,” Malone said. “I asked him several times to (change his mind) and join. I tell people the best leadership is ‘followship.’ I didn’t think we were asking him that much.”
Both Smotherman and Malone say they wish the councilman would have participated.
“I wish I could have stayed and talked about my concerns with the black community,” Smotherman said.
Malone said, “I felt there was a need to have him there.”
Smotherman said one candidate suggested he hang a mask off his ear by the loop to demonstrate he had a mask, but Smotherman said he rejected that idea because he felt it would have been cheating.
Smotherman said he will reach out to members of the black community to have a dialogue.
“I’m sorry that it happened,” Smotherman said. “But we have to continue to stand up for people’s rights. I don’t want people to believe their government is in a complete panic over what’s taking place with the pandemic.”
The councilman said COVID-19 is also taking a toll on the community through economics and mental health issues.
Malone said one of the biggest questions he was asked is where Smotherman was. One outcome of the forum was a consensus among council and school board candidates that more dialogue is needed. He said he has received good feedback from people who watched it and who expressed hope for unity.
There was limited seating at Zion Christian Ministries for social distancing, but the town hall was livestreamed on Facebook at @zionchristianministries and YouTube at @thezexperience.