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Public Forum On Police Reform Plagued By Racist Threats, Trolling

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An online public comment session on police reform was plagued by racist threats, trolling, foul language, and attempts to target Lexington city council members.

With callers going unscreened, the Wednesday night zoom meeting meant to open a public dialogue on concerns raised by local racial justice protesters devolved into a disturbing lesson for city leaders. The meeting was punctuated by callers, many with young or recorded voices, spewing hate against blacks, gays, and Jews.

The messages, which were quickly cut off by meeting operators, included calls such as "Kill all n******" and "We need Auschwitz for f******."

Council members at times debated whether to end the meeting, reschedule under different circumstances, or continue.

"We're subjecting ourselves and the public to the kind of comments that nobody should have to listen to," Vice Mayor Steve Kay said, pausing the meeting to get colleagues' opinions on how to proceed.

Sixth District representative Angela Evans, one of two African-American council members, appeared to be targeted by callers trying to spread personal information. Evans told her coworkers the disruptions should serve as a wake-up call.

"Because we're allowing anonymity, you all wouldn't know this is what people do," she said. "You wouldn't know this is what I get called walking down the street... just because."

Callers wishing to share their opinions ranged from backers of the movement to "defund" or reallocate some police dollars toward more community-based programs, to supporters and relatives of local officers who advocated for more training and against blanket condemnations of police.

Kay, who chaired the special committee of the whole meeting, first had the screener manually remove callers using only initials or lacking a last name, before setting a limit based on when callers had joined the queue. Once the last caller finished her comments and the participants opted to disband, the public feed was discontinued.

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