Much of Sedalia remains charmingly the same as when I lived here 20 years ago, and where there’s difference, I’ve seen growth. The recent Pettis County Pride Picnic, for example, where two hundred people gathered to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
That progress, however, was dampened last Friday night by the mayor of Sedalia. Local activist, Heather Hughes, outraged about the detention of immigrants and criminalizing of asylum seekers, organized a Lights for Liberty vigil at the court house.
The evening was quiet until a gentleman repeatedly harassed demonstrators as he went in and out of the Oak Room. Initially, we didn’t recognize him, and I never imagined that a mayor would act so uncivilly. Verbally aggressive and confrontational, he recited tired, racist tropes about “fentanyl”, “opioids” and “human trafficking”. Issues we care about, but which weren’t relevant to the human rights abuses happening at the border.
We asked him politely to leave us alone. We encouraged him to make his own sign. When we eventually called police to diffuse the situation, he said, “Tell them who I am. I’m John Kehde. That’s K-E-H-D-E”.
The mayor. Sedalia’s most powerful politician. Thankfully, on arrival the officer ensured that the Mayor respectfully kept his distance.
I’m appalled by the mayor’s lack of professionalism. We’ve all had bad nights, and I believe in extending grace rather than judgment, but he has a responsibility to behave with decorum and to protect our first amendment right rather than intimidate. Simply put, it was an abuse of power.