One summer night in York, Pennsylvania, in 1969, a police officer attended a rally with white gang members. Protestsand racially motivated violence were sweeping the city. The officer threw his fist in the air, shouted “whitepower”, and told people to take whatever weapons they had to Newbury Street. He also gave gang members ammunition,telling them to “kill as many niggers as you can.”
A day later, a minister’s family visiting from South Carolina unknowingly drove into a hostile white neighborhood.Lillie Belle Allen, the 27 year-old daughter, was killed in a torrent of gunfire.
Yesterday, Mayor Charlie Robertson surrendered on charges of murder. An affidavit was filed in conjunction with themayor’s arraignment. In it, Rick Lynn Knouse, one of five other men recently charged in the case, told a grand jurythat Mayor Robertson was the policeman who gave him the ammunition. The affidavit also includes the testimony ofanother former police officer, who said he witnessed Mayor Robertson handing over the ammunition.
Robertson admits shouting “white power” at the rally, but not supplying ammunition to gang members or urging raids onblack neighborhoods.
Racism still affects the city’s politics; the issue split black and white voters during Robertson’s campaign for theDemocratic party’s nomination to run again as mayor. He won the nomination only this Tuesday by defeating Citycouncilman Ray Crenshaw, the first African-American to seek the office.
York is a town of 41,000; 40% are people of color. An exit poll shows that 93% of Robertson’s support came fromwhites and, for 74% of all voters, his part in the riots of 32 years ago was important in their decision.
More than half of those in the poll said the mayor should resign if he was charged but he insists he will hang on. Hesaid: “Absolutely. I will be the mayor until the day I leave office. I will not relinquish the mayor’s office atall.”
- Ray Crenshaw, City councilman and the first African-American to seek the Mayor’s office.