EDITORIAL: Here's why the lip sync video is troubling

The York Dispatch editorial board

The owner of Springettsbury Township-based Maple Donuts is free to support any political views he chooses.

And anyone who disagrees with Charlie Burnside’s conservative bent is free to buy their delicious doughy rings elsewhere.

That’s as it should be.

Burnside has never been shy about linking his business to controversial issues. Remember his “Free O.J.” billboards in the 1990s, a jarring advertising campaign that appeared to have little fun with a brutal double homicide?

These days, his billboards urge readers to “Make America Great Again” and note “Maple Donuts takes a stand not a knee.” He proudly hangs a faded Trump flag on the front of his 3455 E. Market St. headquarters.

Burnside has likely calculated that wrapping Donald Trump in a big bear hug won’t cost him many customers in York County, where about 90 percent of the residents are white and 62.5 percent voted for the Republican in the 2016 presidential election.

Most county residents haven’t been on the receiving end of Trump’s racist rhetoric — such as his refusal to criticize white nationalists following last summer’s deadly “Unite the Right” demonstration (in fact there were “some very fine people” among the torch-bearers, he said) or his habit of insulting the appearance and intelligence of African-American critics.

They haven’t experienced oppression and see no reason to peacefully protest for social justice.

Most people around here aren’t immigrants — documented or otherwise — forced to live in fear because the president has set them up as strawmen responsible for all of country’s ills.

More:Protests planned nationwide over Trump immigration policy

More:Analysis: One year on, Trump still fuels racial divide

If none of those things describe you, then maybe you don’t understand the controversy over a seemingly innocuous lip sync video produced for the York City Police Department and prominently featuring Maple Donuts.

Demographically, however, York City is nothing like the county as a whole. Home to about 44,000, the city has a Latino population of 30.9 percent, or about 13,590 people, and an African-American population of about 27 percent, or about 11,880 people.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich listens during a York NAACP Chapter meeting at Crispus Attucks Community Center Tuesday, August 28, 2018, regarding a promotional video released by the city's police department. Bill Kalina photo

Considering Burnside’s well-known views, it’s perfectly understandable if most city residents wouldn’t want to spend a dime in one of his shops — much less have their police officers cavorting in a video featuring Maple Donuts.

More:NAACP releases suggestions to address controversial police lip-sync video

York City for years has tried and failed to build a police force that is representative of the people it serves. The city police department has 109 officers, and 87.2 percent of them are white men, according to statistics provided by a city spokesman.

Thanks to the video, city residents now might reasonably wonder if the officer responding to their emergency secretly shares Burnside’s and Trump’s attitudes.

York Mayor Michael Helfrich was right to disassociate the city from the video, which was produced as part of a national fundraising phenomenon that has taken social media by storm.

“I have no problem with an independent company doing what they want with their advertising," he said. "But when it becomes associated with the police department, we're getting in a dangerous area."

Helfrich added his job is to “represent everybody in York City. … And it's my job also to try and make people feel safe."

Here’s another big problem: The mayor says he immediately shot down the idea for a Maple Donuts collaboration when it was first mentioned a few weeks ago.

Helfrich told members of the York NAACP earlier this week that he said "hell no" when suggestion was made, but the message was never relayed to Police Chief Troy Bankert.

The video was recorded and produced, and Helfrich said he didn't find out that it was still in the works until last weekend.

Although the city officially has no association with it, the video was released by the production company and is available on Maple Donuts' and other Facebook pages.

While Bankert has remained silent since the controversy erupted, Helfrich said the chief told him he had no idea that the Maple Donuts collaboration would present an issue with the community.

At the NAACP meeting Tuesday, Aug. 28, the mayor attributed Bankert’s response to a "lack of cultural competence" and a "knowledge gap" regarding minority city residents' concerns.

Perhaps eventually we’ll hear directly from Bankert. But if those are his excuses, neither one bodes well for a majority minority city like York.