The ongoing scandal concerning the content of Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy’s twitter account has entered a new phase. Earlier this week Jason Kessler, the man who uncovered the tweets that precipitated the scandal, announced he is heading a movement to petition the courts to eject Bellamy from office. A cursory glance at Bellamy’s tweets shows why Kessler may be justified in making such a move. The collection includes virulently racist and homophobic material, as well as tweets which appear to endorse rape. However, any move to dismiss our Vice Mayor based on just these remarks is premature and ignores his evolving worldview. Since the petition has to be signed by only 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in Bellamy’s last election, this move could allow a vocal minority to usurp a decision that rightfully belongs to the citizens of Charlottesville.
Bellamy has already faced serious consequences for his remarks. In addition to public humiliation he has already been subjected to, he has resigned from the Virginia Board of Education and been put on paid leave while an investigation takes place. Some have tried to defend Bellamy by labeling Kessler as a white supremacist. But any attempt to defend Bellamy by attacking Kessler is misleading and beside the point. The truth is it doesn’t matter who or what he is: who discovered the tweets has no bearing on their offensive content. A group called “Showing Up for Racial Justice” similarly accused Kessler of being a white nationalist and said Bellamy was targeted since he “is a Black leader in the city and the only Black city councilor.” Again, neither Bellamy’s race or leadership position makes him immune to criticism.
However, judgment of Bellamy’s character cannot be limited to his Twitter account, much less to tweets made years ago. A closer look at Bellamy’s twitter feed shows an evolving viewpoint, one that moves from a bigoted, sexist view of the world toward supporting equality. More recent tweets express support for racial harmony and equal rights for gay and trans individuals. Bellamy has stepped forward to take responsibility for his statements, apologized and sought forgiveness for them, though I agree with the Editorial Board in their belief that he should do more to reach out to the communities he insulted. Like any of us, Bellamy should have the right to adjust his views over time.
Isaac Smith, the Secretary of an organization started by Jason Kessler, has rightfully pointed out that there is a double standard used to judge public figures depending on their race and political orientation. This is absolutely true, but it is a double standard used by both conservatives and liberals. Just as conservatives may dismiss the comments Trump made in the past about women as those of a younger man whose views have matured, some liberals may wish to move past Bellamy’s antithetical comments due to his current support for their causes. In fact, Kessler wrote a blog post this fall attacking figures on the left for censoring conservative firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos, and decried the “public tarring and feathering” of Douglas Muir for his controversial Facebook comments on the Black Lives Matter movement. Ironically, Kessler’s rhetoric at the press conference calling Bellamy a bigot and a “hate merchant” almost shares key parallels with a University of California, Davis petition to cancel an event featuring Yiannopoulos on the grounds he was “spreading hate and bigotry.” Whether or not Bellamy should be forgiven or retain his position is a decision the residents of his district must make, and it would be an injustice if a mere 10 percent of voters is allowed to deny that choice to their fellow citizens.
Alex Mink is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.