Trump appointee sparks US Consulate protest
Dozens took part in a protest outside the United States Consulate yesterday to jointly decry a new appointment and the unlawful killing of blacks in America.
“It's about stopping the global spread of fascism, racism, white supremacy, and stamping it out wherever we see it,” said protest organiser Kristin White.
Her comments came as local outrage grows against the appointment of Lee Rizzuto Jr, a controversial Donald Trump campaign contributor, as replacement for US Consul General Constance Dierman this summer.
She added that the furore over Mr Rizzuto's appointment and the racial justice issues that have flared in the US after the death of black American George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota are “sides of the same coin”.
Mr Rizzuto, who gave $449,000 to Mr Trump's presidential campaign political action committee, made headlines in America after he shared “conspiracy theories and unfounded attacks” about the President's political opponents on Twitter in the run-in to the 2016 election.
The fallout resulted in Mr Trump not gaining Senate confirmation when he nominated Mr Rizzuto for a diplomatic post in Barbados similar to the one he is due to take up in Bermuda.
Ms White, a well-known entrepreneur and social activist, added: “Any support for Donald Trump is support for fascism.
“Bermuda Day was specifically created in the aftermath of racial tension and rebellion as a way to unify the country.
“How is sending this person here unifying this country?
“Wherever Donald Trump's people go, racism and fascism follow.”
Ms White said that she hoped the Bermuda Government would pressure John Rankin, the Governor, to refuse the appointment of Mr Rizzuto.
She added: “That is the bottom line. We do not want him here.”
Such an appointment, she said, embodied “anti-Muslim, anti-black and anti-woman” sentiments.
She added: “We don't want him here; we have no space for racism.”
However, David Burt, the Premier, all but admitted that the Government's hands are tied when he addressed the issue during the Covid-19 pandemic press conference.
Mr Burt said: “I can recognise that there may be persons who have strong feelings one way or another.
“The post to Bermuda is not often used as a political post; this is a political appointment as opposed to a career foreign service officer.”
He added that while the US Senate had not confirmed Mr Rizzuto to a post in Barbados, he did not require similar approval for the Bermuda post because the island was not independent.
“I hope the persons who are calling for that type of change also recognise that it's what happens when you live in a colony,” the Premier said.
The protest, headlined “We Take Action” carried the hashtags #blacklivesmatterbda, #rejectrizzuto and #icantbreathe bda, a slogan related to protests against the killing of black people by American police officers.
Makai Dickerson, another protest organiser, said the movement was about “justice for everyone”.
He added: “This is about standing up as Bermudians in making it known that we stand with our brothers and sisters worldwide.”
Mr Dickerson said that Bermudians had “every right” to challenge appointments to positions of power on the island.
“To have him in a position of power at any level in this island, we have every right to be against it,” said Mr Dickerson, who described Mr Rizzuto as a “toxic man”.
The protesters held a nine-minute moment of silence to reflect the amount of time that Mr Floyd spent pinned under the knee of a Minnesota police officer before dying of asphyxia. They also stood, knelt and chanted slogans “Silence Is Compliance”, “Reject Rizzuto” and “Twenty-one Square Miles, No Space for Racism” outside the consulate building for about two hours.
Tonya Trott, 38, from Hamilton Parish, said that she joined the protest in memory of George Floyd and other black men and women who had been victims of police brutality.
She added that this protest, like those taking place around the world, was the best way to have your voice heard by people in power.
Ms Trott added: “I don't think you can expect anything to change by just being a keyboard warrior [on social media].
“People don't listen just because you're speaking; I think you have to go and be seen and be willing to put yourself out there.”
Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, said freedom of expression and demonstrations “are time-honoured and effective practices guaranteed under our constitution”.
He added: “Such forms of assembly are part of healthy democracy and we respect an individual's right to peacefully protest.”
Ms Dierman, who took up her post as US Consul General in June 2018 on an initial three-year assignment, thanked the protesters for observing the rule of law.
“Freedom of speech and assembly are cornerstones of a healthy democracy,” she said.
“I thank those peacefully making their views heard outside the US Consulate and thank the Bermuda Police Service for ensuring everyone's safety.”
• Additional reporting by Sekou Hendrickson and Owain Johnston-Barnes