Rochester, N.Y. – Days following the firing of a local television meteorologist over an apparent on-air racial slur, Rochester’s mayor is calling for a greater sense of empathy from all members of the community toward one other.
A five-minute address by Mayor Lovely Warren was released on the City of Rochester’s Facebook page Thursday, ahead of the National League of Cities REAL Initiative events scheduled for later this month.
In that address, she alluded to the recent firing of WHEC meteorologist Jeremy Kappell.
Kappell was fired Sunday. During the previous Friday’s newscast, he used what appeared to be a racial slur while referencing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in Rochester.
Kappell responded in the days following his firing, claiming it was an accident, that he did not realize what had happened and that he had "crunched two words together," inadvertently causing the slur.
Sunday, after video of the incident was released online, Mayor Warren called for Kappell to be fired from his position. WHEC said the decision to terminate Kappell had been made before Warren's statement.
In the days that followed, the story surrounding Kappell’s termination garnered both local and nationwide attention.
In the address posted Thursday, Mayor Warren referenced Kappell’s firing..
“Dr. King stated that, even though a lot had been accomplished during the civil rights movement, that more still needed to be done, especially when it came to the use of language and the depiction of the people of color,” Warren said.
“As mayor, I am committed to working so everyone can understand how the words and images we all use or omit cause righteous anger or harm,” she continued. “Sometimes, the hurt isn’t intentional, but it is painful, nonetheless. Sometimes, the impact matters more than the intent. It is our job to recognize the divide between our beliefs and our actions, and dedicate ourselves to change our actions so that our intent is never called into question.”
Warren argued that a path forward means citizens recognizing the, “reality and pain,” of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of hatred.
“This will be just the beginning of our efforts to share and learn,” she said, “so we all can develop a greater empathy and understanding of each other.”
Thursday, a small group of people gathered outside City Hall, calling for Mayor Warren to meet with Kappell. Warren reportedly met with one of those who gathered.
In a statement given to 13WHAM Thursday, Kappell said, "I would like the city to work out is differences, and I would like to be able to help."
Also on Thursday, Dr. Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed the controversy surrounding Kappell with TMZ.
"I believe when these racial slurs occur, unless there’s a situation where it’s continual, that people need an opportunity to be rehabilitated. And we don’t focus a lot on rehabilitation in our society today," she said. "And part of that is, yes, there has to be some repercussions. I don’t think it should go as far in this particular instance as firing an individual. I think demoting, giving them another assignment off air, sending them through some training, some bias training, re-evaluating to see where they are – is a better solution in this particular instance."
"Obviously, the apology is warranted," she added, "And yes, he did apologize. And some people may feel he just apologized he was caught or it was an outrage. But at the end of the day, I can’t question a person’s intent when they apologize."
Thursday evening, Mayor Warren spoke with members of the media about the week's events - during which, she said it is time for the community to move forward.
"When something isn’t addressed immediately that is as offensive as what was said, then you create the opportunity for people to get upset about it," she said. "Because, one of the things we all must do when we make a mistake, is say, ‘You know what, I said that,’ or, ‘I did this, and I’m sorry; please forgive me.’ And, as Dr. King said, that’s happened, and so now it’s time to move onto the next thing, and the next thing truly is healing."
She also confirmed she met with the organizer of Thursday's protest outside City Hall - but added she was expecting to meet with Mr. Kappell, as well.
"If Jeremy wanted to meet with me, my door was open today," she said. "I thought he was coming. It was said that he was coming. I ended up meeting with Ed (Referring to the organizer of the protest), and we had a great conversation, but he (Kappell) has not reached out to me, he has not talked to me."
"When you talk about teachable moments, sometimes you have to go through a struggle to really come out and understand the struggle was worth it," she added. "What we learned, what we came from, what we just went through as a community, I think – for me – it shows us that we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of things we need to get out and understand about one another."
Friday, Reverend Lewis Stewart of the United Christian Leadership Ministry is scheduled to address the Kappell firing and to call for an honest discussion of racism in the Rochester area.