Town hall meeting tries to ease racial tension in town

Firefighter Mikel Neal and his attorney held a news conference Wednesday morning to address the incident. (WISH Photo)

MARION, Ind. (WISH) – People in Grant County are out to prove their town stands together after they say a careless act was starting to drive them apart.

Last month, officials said Marion Assistant Fire Chief Rick Backs was conducting a rope tying exercise and ended up knotting together a symbol that some felt was racially charged.

And in a town where prejudice used to run deep, people are now making sure the pain of the past stays there.

It’s the talk of the town that people are struggling to talk about.

“There’s a divide that’s starting to grow,” said firefighter Ranc Fouce.

But at the community room at Prince Hall Apartments, there’s a group that’s speaking up.

“It is the time, and we are the people and the challenge must be met,” said a Pastor C.L. Adams.

Conquering that challenge means starting a conversation about an event that made whites, blacks, and all races in Marion come to the town hall meeting.

“Who in this day and age with the history we’ve had 85 years ago would come forth with that cruel joke,” asked one man in the crowd.

He’s talking about what happened at the Marion Fire Department.

Officials said the assistant chief tied a rope into a noose and placed it in front a black firefighter. He apologized, saying it wasn’t a joke or racially charged act, but a lapse of judgement.

But in a town where the last known public lynching took place right in front of the courthouse 85 years ago, forgiveness won’t come easy.

“I mean some stuff cuts pretty deep,” said Fouce. “And a noose definitely cuts pretty deep.”

But the healing starts at the meeting where an act that could have divided people, divided races, is bringing them together.

“This is about love,” Senator Greg Taylor beckoned to the crowd. “The wisdom in this room can produce the results that we need and we can provide an example for this country.”

“I love it, I love it,” Joann Jackson said with a smile as she described the diversity and togetherness in the room. “I feel like it should be more, but it’s a start.”

And it begins by talking about a topic they hope is just a footnote in their past.

“I would just like to see this story bring the city together as a whole,” said Angela Cain, Fouce’s fiancé. “I just hope that’s what comes of this. We need that.”

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