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Is this mayor up to it?

In this time of painful and necessary reckoning on race, mayors matter more than ever. Can Quincy’s meet the moment?

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch in 2016
Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch in 2016Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/File 2016

We can be shocked, but not surprised at Wednesday’s news that no officer will face charges for the police killing of Breonna Taylor in a botched drug raid in Louisville, Ky.

The fight to make Black lives matter will be long. And in the absence of action by the federal government, led by a president whose racism is an electoral strategy, it falls to local leaders to address the movement’s righteous anger and to make change.

Now, more than ever, mayors matter. And so it matters that Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch seems unable to hear his constituents' calls for justice. It matters that, like President Trump and this GOP, Koch fixates on looting and violence, rather than on the message of protesters seeking recognition for the full humanity of Black Americans. It matters that he seems unable to brook any criticism of his city’s police force.

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It matters that when one of his constituents, frustrated at Koch’s slowness to understand all of this, sent him a copy of Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be An Antiracist,” Koch responded by sending her a Bible.

Beth, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her Quincy business, voted for Koch last year. But she and other activists were disturbed at the mayor’s rhetoric after the marches against police brutality began in June. Koch referred to those who had destroyed property in Boston demonstrations as “thugs,” calling their behavior “animal.” He has since said he did not understand those terms were racially loaded, and vowed not to use them again. At a counter-rally to support police soon after, Koch said “100 percent” of police officers in Quincy “do the right thing, day in and day out,” according to the Patriot-Ledger.

Making that incredible claim sends a clear message.

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“It just continues the narrative that we don’t matter in Quincy,” said protest organizer Tiffany Adams, who is Black.

She and Beth said they’ve been frustrated with the mayor’s dismissiveness when they’ve tried to convince him there is work to be done in the city of 95,000, where 60 percent of residents are white, 31 percent are Asian, and 5 percent are Black. Beth was stunned at Koch’s response to her gift of the book.

“Even if I wasn’t Jewish, I would be taken aback,” she said, by an elected official sending a Bible to a constituent, as if it were a rebuttal.

In an interview, Koch said he thought Beth was “essentially inferring that I am racist,” and that she was judging him unfairly. “I wanted her to get to know me a little bit, and I draw strength from that book,” Koch said. “I don’t find the Bible to be offensive to anybody."

What Koch finds offensive are attempts to plug Quincy into a national narrative that he says doesn’t apply to the city. He said he has had Zoom meetings with activists and heard their complaints. He did allow on Wednesday that “some of these issues that have percolated this summer quite frankly are new to me." He also said he would read the book Beth gave him.

But it’s hard to tell how deep such sentiments go, given some of his other statements, which sound awfully Trumpy. Concluding a recent speech, Koch waded into waters that have been so useful for the president: “As far as I’m concerned I will be kneeling for my God and standing at attention for my flag,” he said.

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This sounded so much like the president, that I asked Koch, who left the Democratic Party a few years ago over its support for abortion rights, who he intended to vote for in November. He said he hadn’t decided, and wouldn’t tell anyway.

“I am not thrilled with either side,” he said.

Democrat Joe Biden’s pro-choice stance is a problem for Koch. He said Trump “drives me crazy, how he conducts himself at times,” but he praised the president for his handling of the economy and trade, as well as his “support for the military.”

This painful moment of racial reckoning is unlikely to pass, particularly if Trump wins a second term. The good people of Quincy — especially those who have felt unheard by Koch and harmed by the president he praises — must ask themselves if their mayor can meet that moment.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.