Fifty-three percent of Tarrant’s residents are Black, and Newton (R) is the city’s first Black mayor. He grew up in neighboring Birmingham and attended the University of Pennsylvania, then the University of Virginia for law school before moving to Tarrant.
Since taking office November, Newton has also faced difficulties. There have been disagreements with the police department, with members of the city council, and fraught relationships between some members of the community and local government, often driven by race. Now these tensions are breaking out in public.
At a city council meeting Monday evening, council member Tommy Bryant sparked the latest instance. In a video of the meeting, a member of the audience can be heard saying Bryant’s wife has used a slur on social media. Bryant, who is White, then stands and asks, “Do we have a house n----- in here?”
The minutes leading up to the comment began with a man identified as Chuck saying other members of the city council are disrespectful to Bryant and asking Bryant to speak up for himself. While addressing the council and the public, Bryant complains about being interrupted, then the discussion turns to Bryant’s wife and her social media posts on a community Facebook page. An unidentified woman in the crowd accuses Bryant’s wife of using the racial slur on the Facebook page, at which point — about an hour and 41 minutes into the video — Bryant stands up.
“Let’s get to the n-word,” Bryant says, that time using the euphemism. “Do we have a house n----- in here?”
Bryant points toward another member of the city council, Veronica Freeman, who is Black.
Amid gasps from the audience, at least one woman can be seen crying before getting up to leave.
On Wednesday, Bryant told The Washington Post that he was using the same language he had heard directed at Freeman before.
“The mayor of Tarrant, Wayman Newton, in an executive session, called Councilperson Veronica Freeman a stupid house n-word,” Bryant said, using the euphemism. “This was done in front of the entire council plus the city attorney. The mayor has neither apologized or admitted he was wrong in doing this. I did what I did to try to get people mad enough that I could expose what the mayor did in harassing this councilperson. So don’t get mad at me; I’m just the messenger.”
Bryant said he has no plans to resign.
“I plan to keep on fighting for Ms. Freeman and try to keep the mayor from harassing her,” Bryant said.
Freeman did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment.
Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Tracie Threadford has called for Bryant to step down.
“Tommy Bryant is a distraction to all the change to our city, and he needs to resign,” Threadford said Wednesday.
Newton described the incident as the latest in a pattern.
“This isn’t the first time he has used racial language in a meeting,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
“Last night represented a continuation of what I’d had to deal with since I got here,” Newton said. “It has reached a point where it’s seeping out into the public, and that is bad for the city.”
Newton described an incident several months ago in which Bryant referred to him as “boy,” reportedly in an effort to instigate a disturbance between the two.
The Daily Beast quoted Bryant as saying, “I was trying to p--- him off to see if he’d come after me.”
The discord, though, started the day Newton took office. On Nov. 3, 2020, Newton says he was arguing with the city’s police chief, Dennis Reno, over the department’s hiring policies, which Newton considered discriminatory. At the time, Tarrant did not have a single Black police officer.
“We were discussing hiring practices, and he was pretty open that he didn’t hire Black officers,” Newton told The Post on Tuesday.
Reno allegedly told Newton that Black police officers were not qualified for the job and could not be trusted to police other Black people.
“At that point I had to remind him that I signed his paycheck, and I had to kick him out of my office,” Newton said.
Reno, who retired Jan. 1, described the situation differently. In a deposition given June 6, Reno said Newton had slammed a door on his elbow, injuring his shoulder seriously enough that he required physical therapy.
Reno disputed allegations that the department had engaged in discriminatory hiring policies.
“That is a barefaced lie he is telling,” Reno said Wednesday about his meeting with Newton. “Nothing about hiring policies was discussed that day.”
Newton was accused of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor offense, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Newton surrendered to police on June 16 and was released the same day, according to Jefferson County court documents. A court date in the case is set for next month.
After his release, Newton posted several videos to Tarrant’s official Facebook page. One appears to show Reno calmly leaving the mayor’s office and closing the door behind him. Others show Reno in the parking lot of city hall, carrying boxes with the arm he says he injured during his alleged confrontation with Newton.
The police department has hired four Black officers since Newton has taken office, he said.
On Tuesday, the Alabama Democratic Party called for Bryant to resign.
“Last night, Tarrant City Council Member Tommy Bryant stood up and used the N word at a City Council Meeting. He is a racist and unfit to serve,” Alabama Democrats Executive Director Wade F. Perry said in a statement.
The Alabama Republican Party said it is “deeply troubled” by Bryant’s statements.
“Such language is completely unacceptable in any setting, and even more concerning coming from an elected official,” Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl said in a statement Wednesday. “The comments made at the Tarrant city council meeting have no place in government leadership, and if they reflect the opinion of Tommy Bryant he should immediately step down.”
Newton said Bryant’s sentiments do not represent the town as a whole.
“People might see that video and have a negative view of us, of Tarrant,” said Newton. “But those sentiments don’t represent us. Those aren’t our values.”
Monday’s meeting continued after Bryant’s comments. During that approximately half-hour span, Newton proposed a town hall meeting to discuss racial issues in the community and asked Bryant to participate.
In the video, Bryant says he would “have to think about that.”