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Racist poem defending recently removed city commissioner hung in downtown Paducah

Flyers bearing a racist poem defending a recently removed local official were posted around downtown Paducah overnight Thursday.

The poem – entitled “Paducah: Making Lynching Great Again” – characterizes the recent removal of white Paducah City Commissioner David Guess as a lynching, references several local officials and community members and includes a blank where the reader is meant to infer a racial slur.

The commission unanimously voted to remove Guess earlier this month after finding he had committed misconduct in the form of a racially charged text to a civic employee in reference to a Black candidate for city commission.

These flyers were posted on several local businesses and placed on car windows around the McCracken County seat’s downtown area, including Bryant Law Center and Bricolage, a local shop that sells art and gifts. Paducah Mayor George Bray estimated as many as 40 or 50 copies of the poem – credited on the flyer to “Vindiciae Contra Tyrranos,” a reference to a Protestant text whose Latin title translates to “A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants” – were hung around town.

Paducah Police Chief Brian Laird confirmed that, after an investigation, Gil Arterburn was found to be the author and distributor of the flyers.

The mayor characterized Arterburn as “one of former commissioner Guess’s closest friends and confidants” and called the poem “disappointing.”

“It’s disappointing to say the least … the action we’ve taken is really targeted toward trying to eliminate this sort of thing from leadership,” Bray said. “I think it confirms that what we’re trying to do is the right thing and we plan to move forward.”

Arterburn, a retired Paducah firefighter, endorsed Guess in his most recent run for office and was mentioned in a community blog profile of the former commissioner as a friend of more than 35 years. Arterburn also spoke in Guess’s defense during the public comment portion of the Dec. 16 Paducah City Commission meeting regarding his misconduct.

Bricolage owner Landee Bryant said she was shocked to find a flyer on her window – directly over a sign that read “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” – when she went to open for the day.

“I almost didn’t read it. But then I started hearing they were all over town. In this climate I am unapologetically in favor of supporting anyone who feels targeted. This was a human using deception to prove a point. And a point I don’t agree with,” Bryant said. “I didn’t feel unsafe by this but it is always on my mind to challenge people that use free speech as a catalyst for hate and disdain.

“I just wish people would stop spewing negativity toward people/lifestyles that have zero effect on how they choose to live their own lives.”

David Riley, former commissioner Guess’s attorney, confirmed that his client had “no involvement creating or distributing the flyers and did not contribute to their contents,” only learning about them after they had been posted.

Guess, who had just been elected to his fourth term in November, is appealing the decision to remove him from office. The McCracken County Circuit Court will hear his appeal on Feb. 1.

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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