FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Allen County Councilman Larry Brown appeared to call protesters “uneducated” and said “unfortunately they also breed” during an open meeting.
The District 4 councilman’s comments came near the end of Thursday morning’s regular County Council meeting, while council members were engaged in a discussion about recent protests in downtown Fort Wayne.
Brown questioned whether the body should make a public statement on the demonstrations against racism and police brutality. He said “we’re all being threatened with votes,” and encouraged the council to “stay unified.”
After a brief discussion, Brown continued.
“As uneducated as they are, obviously, on local government, they do vote, and unfortunately they also breed,” Brown said. “They do vote and they’re going to be an uneducated voter.”
Fellow council members Ken Fries and Kyle Kerley dropped their heads after the comment. Council President Joel Benz said the meeting was “not the format to address that.” The meeting was then quickly adjourned.
WANE 15 has reached out to Brown to clarify his comment. He offered this statement:
My comments in regards to protesters breeding was wrong, and totally out of line. For that I apologize. These comments were made in response to a discussion about what role Council can play in addressing the issues before us today. I do stand by my comment that too many of the protesters seem to be uneducated in local government structure. County Council is the fiscal body of county government. We have no legislative or executive authority. Additionally, the entire judicial system which includes the Sheriff, Prosecutor, and Courts are all elected and/or appointed governmental officials. County Council reviews and ultimately approves each of their budgets and fiscal requests, but Council has no authority or responsibility for their daily activity.
Benz called the level of criticism towards the county council that Brown’s comments drew “unprecedented”, and said he has not seen anything like it for as long as he has been in office.
“We’ve always had public record but our society has changed pretty significantly in the last few months,” said Benz. “People are attuned to what’s going on and people are paying attention, and people are really tense and on edge.”
Benz released the following statement Friday:
I have known Councilman Larry Brown for years. I know him to be a good-hearted person, and a hard working public servant. But that neither explains nor excuses what he said at the Council table on Thursday. His comments, especially juxtaposed with those of Councilwoman Campbell-Curry about the challenges faced by African-Americans today, are indefensible and inexplicable. They run strongly against the values of the citizens of Allen County, the members of County Council and of the Republican Party. Councilman Brown must find an immediate and tangible way to make amends for what he said during Thursday’s meeting. He deserves an opportunity to decide on his own, exactly what he will do in order to accomplish that. In the meantime, I have asked the county legal team to explore the possibility of censure for Mr. Brown by the County Council.
A video of Brown’s comments has been shared hundreds of times on social media and an online petition has garnered more than 2,000 signitures as of 11:30 pm Thursday night. Earlier in the day, Benz said that Brown apologized and knew what he said was wrong, but that people are responsible for what they say.
“Part of what goes on in our community you can say what you want, but ultimately you are responsible,” said Benz. “I think that’s what people are doing right now is making their feelings known in response to what he said and that’s absolutely their right.”
Benz also said he felt like Allen County was ahead of the curve when it comes to affecting the justice system. He pointed towards a newly-funded community corrections-driven program that the council chose to fund last month.
Protests have been held in downtown Fort Wayne for three weeks. More than 100 people have been arrested, but the demonstrations have largely been peaceful. Protester Isiah Gray said he believes that Brown’s comments will drive people to look into what the role of local government is and who they are electing into it.
“I’m around a lot of educated people around here,” said Gray. “You know, I feel like it’s real uneducated to think that people caring about their rights and justice is dumb, but him thinking I’m uneducated is just going to make me want to, out of spite, learn more. At least learn more about the county council District 4 and whose running there and whose running against him.”