A planned protest outside a Pine Bluff church whose pastor is also a city alderman failed to draw much participation Sunday, with no more than four people taking part.
Local activist Barbara Blunt Muhammad walked up the public sidewalk in front of Barraque Street Missionary Baptist Church at 9:30 a.m. Sunday carrying a bright orange hand-lettered poster that read: “Facts are Non-Existent, Vote to Re-hire Ridgell.”
Muhammad was joined by local businessman Michael McCray in her protest of the Oct. 21 City Council vote cast by Barraque St. MBC Pastor Lloyd Holcomb Jr. — also a Pine Bluff alderman who represents the city’s First Ward — not to reinstate fired City Collector Albert Ridgell a second time.
Within five minutes, Muhammad and McCray made their way to a parking lot adjacent to the church.
“I’m waiting for the others to show up,” Muhammad said as 10 a.m. came and went.
While several well-wishers stopped briefly to speak to Muhammad before moving on, no further protesters arrived except for an unidentified man and former Pine Bluff alderman Jack Foster, who arrived just after 11 a.m.
Muhammad announced last week that she was organizing a demonstration against Holcomb over his vote not to reinstate Ridgell for a second time.
Mayor Debe Hollingsworth has twice fired Ridgell from his position as city collector. The first firing was overturned by a vote of the City Council, with Holcomb joining five other aldermen in support of Ridgell’s reinstatement. But after Hollingsworth dismissed Ridgell a second time, Holcomb voted against reinstating him at the council’s Oct. 21 meeting.
“I am a voter and a concerned citizen of Pine Bluff,” Muhammad said to a group of reporters Sunday. “Pastor Holcomb should vote to rehire the City Collector Mr. Ridgell. I am here to send a message to Mr. Holcomb that we would like him to vote to reinstate Mr. Ridgell. There is no evidence to back up his firing by Mayor Debe Hollingsworth.”
Muhammad said that there is nothing wrong with protesting a church service.
“You as the individual are the church, not the brick building,” Muhammad said. “Holcomb needs to be fair about what he is doing. This action against Mr. Ridgell is racism being perpetrated. Racism is an ugly word, but when it is being perpetrated, you have to call it out.”
McCray said that he felt the need to come out Sunday because of a sense that the right thing has not been done in this case.
“I am a proud and concerned citizen of Pine Bluff,” McCray said. “I work with different community groups and this issue at city hall concerns me. When things are not right, people have a duty to speak up. I don’t feel that we are protesting the church today. I believe that Mr. Ridgell has not been given a chance to state his case, and I am fearful that we are seeing the politicization of the tax-collection process. We must be fair and provide everyone with their right to due process.”
Foster said he believes that Holcomb has not been presented with the facts of the case.
“I think this is an opportunity for Mr. Holcomb to review the actual facts,” Foster said. “I believe that the five city council members who voted to reinstate Mr. Ridgell did so because of an absence of facts as to why Mr. Ridgell was fired. I believe Mr. Holcomb may be confused but we are ready to help him understand.”
Foster was convicted in September 2004 of aiding and abetting an attempted extortion and was sentenced to three years in federal prison. Prosecutors said Foster accepted money in exchange for his promise to secure votes from black council members on a rezoning proposal.
Foster served more than two years in prison before his release in February 2009.
Ridgell sent an email to aldermen and the mayor last week pointing out he was not allowed to address the council during an executive session to discuss his firing at the Oct. 21 council meeting. Ridgell was not seen at Monday’s meeting, and his firing wasn’t mentioned.
Asked about the protest after Monday’s meeting, Holcomb said he had no comment.