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Former York County GOP chair disavows Perry following comments about race

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

The former chair of the York County GOP on Wednesday denounced U.S. Rep. Scott Perry's remarks about systemic racism and other racial issues before backing Perry's Democratic challenger.

Meanwhile, current GOP Chairperson Jeff Piccola defended Perry's remarks, accusing former county Republican head Bob Wilson of being a "traitor" to the GOP and arguing anyone who believes systemic racism exists is anti-American. 

The political turmoil came after Perry, R-Carroll Township, on Wednesday claimed systemic racism isn't real, George Floyd's death was more than what it seemed and the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police are sensationalized.

"After hearing of, and reading about the comments from Congressman Perry today at the rotary event here in York County, I now feel that new leadership is needed now more than ever," wrote Wilson, who served as GOP chair from 2011 to 2014.

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Wilson is married to a Caribbean American, he wrote, adding that they donated to Perry's opponent in the 10th Congressional District race, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

It was the first time Wilson has ever donated to a Democrat, he said. And Wilson claimed that he distanced himself from the party years ago because it "no longer valued its principles or even cared to try to increase its base in historical minority communities."

When reached Thursday, Wilson declined further comment.

U.S. Representative Scott Perry (R-Pa. 10) speaks to reporters after participating in a Rotary Club of York candidate forum at the Country Club of York Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. He is seeking reelection for the 10th Congressional seat. His opponent, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, will be featured at a similar Oct. 7 event. Bill Kalina photo

Perry's comments Wednesday at the York County Rotary Club forum in Spring Garden Township  set off a firestorm on social media, with many accusing his comments of being tone deaf and racist.

The Washington Post and The Hill also reported on the four-term Republican incumbent's comments about systemic racism.

"What is systemic? That means there's a system of. If there's a system, someone had to create that system," Perry said after the forum.  "Someone is operating and nurturing the system to keep it going. I don't know who in our country is doing that."

"That belies the fact we had a war among the United States over that issue to cleanse our country of that issue," he added, referencing the Civil War.

Piccola, though, stood by Perry.

Wilson, Piccola said, is "nothing but a traitor to his party and his principles, if he has any."

Piccola said claims about systemic racism pervading American culture are "insane." The country has had a Black president for two terms and Black people hold positions of power throughout the country, he said.

Jeff Piccola, chairman of the York County Republican Committee.

"Anybody who believes that there is systemic racism is anti-American," Piccola said.

Perry's campaign on Thursday said Perry believes racism is wrong in all forms, but it did not walk back his claims the previous day. It also attacked DePasquale for allegedly participating in a protest where some attendees held signs that read "Blue Lives Murder."

"Rep. Perry has made it clear he thinks racism is wrong in all it’s forms," wrote spokesperson Matt Beynon in an email. "He said it yesterday in York, he is saying it today in his statement, and he will say it every day. Why was DePasquale comfortable aligning himself with these radicals who call our law enforcement murderers using our tax dollars to 'kill.' That is unacceptable!"

The York NAACP was expected Thursday to release a statement on Perry's comments and the controversy surrounding them, said local NAACP President Sandra Thompson. It had yet to be released as of 3:15 p.m.

Police brutality and calls for racial justice have been defining factors of 2020 after a string of Black people died in police custody.

Most recently, on Aug. 23, Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer. 

In Kenosha on Wednesday, President Donald Trump said police brutality was not a systemic issue after interjecting when two pastors were asked about the matter.

The issue has simmered since May, when a Minneapolis police officer knelt George Floyd's his neck for about eight minutes, resulting in Floyd's death.

Perry on Wednesday insisted that there is "always more to the story" with incidents such as Floyd's and that they are being sensationalized.

"Apparently, there is more to the story, if you look at the pathologist report," Perry said, referencing how Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system at the time of the encounter with police.

The drugs, however, were not listed as a cause of death. Local officials have labeled the death a homicide.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.