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Free speech not a license to insult and denigrate

A Mendham Township deputy mayor compared undocumented immigrants to “rabid, messy raccoons” infesting basements and President Donald Trump to an exterminator in an inflammatory Facebook post.

Two Roseland Borough Councilmen thought their text messages, containing racial and ethnic slurs, with one coining the term “ShwarzNigga,” did no harm and was funny.

A newly appointed member of the Bernards Township Board of Health has drawn fire for his verbal and written comments about the Liberty Corner mosque case and other hot-button issues.

And those are just the comments we know of that have landed on the pages of our newspapers covering the suburban, generally well-off comfortable suburbs of New Jersey.
Where is this rancor, this prejudice, this hatred coming from? The same rage that put Donald Trump in the highest office in the land last year is showing its ugly, abhorrent tentacles at even the lowest levels of government. They must feel empowered by the president of this country to demean others in the crudest of terms.

Mercifully the people and residents of Mendham Township, Bernards Township and Roseland stood up and fought back and decried the shameful behavior of their so-called leaders.

The deputy mayor of Mendham Township Rick Blood was forced to resign, albeit reluctantly. He apparently thought a Facebook and, later, verbal apology would suffice until he was faced with an angry crowd, some fighting back tears, at a Township Committee meeting where members of his own Republican party sought his resignation. Leading the charge was the woman who defeated him in the November general election, Amalia Duarte, who is of Dominican descent, the lone Democrat on the five-person committee, and her Republican counterparts ultimately agreed. It was an interesting scenario in another way: Blood had never been popularly elected to the post. He lost to Duarte in November but was appointed to the committee in December by the GOP after a fellow Republican resigned. Then in January, he was appointed deputy mayor by a vote of the committee.

The people of Roseland, just as boisterous and outraged, were not quite as immediately successful but certainly the municipal careers of Thomas Tsilionis and David Jacobs have been forever tarred by their despicable attempts at humor, with residents vigorously pursuing an ultimately unsuccessful recall petition against Tsilionis, who coined the offensive term and who has shown no subsequent serious remorse whatsoever. Jacobs, at least, has been apologetic and contrite since its revelation.

Meanwhile, Bernards Township, already reeling from accusations and lawsuits charging discrimination and anti-Islamic rhetoric in the wake of its botched Library Corner mosque hearings, continues to tarnish its reputation with the mayor’s appointment of outspoken mosque critic Nick Xu, an information technology consultant, to the Board of Health, replacing a local veterinarian, and to the Environmental Commission.

It smacks of tone-deaf arrogance that the township’s Republican mayor, John Carpenter, who has been under the microscope over the mosque case due to allegations of discrimination, would actually remove a qualified veterinarian from the health board to make room for someone like Xu, a Facebook friend, whose bizarre comments could clearly be interpreted as bigotry.

Due to his difficulties with the English language and the fact that he is apparently attempting to mix humor with his political rants, it’s hard to determine the exact intent of Xu’s ramblings but his recent Facebook postings have drawn notice in which he praised President Donald Trump and took jabs at the Democratic Party, media figures and illegal immigration.

“Goodbye 2017, it was a fun year,” he wrote in a Jan. 1 post. “1. Went to Trump inauguration ceremony, met Fake News Network host Anderson Cooper. He looked skinny and exhausted, it’s not a easy job to lie everyday on TV. LOL,” he added.

In the same post, he said his Chinese parents had to wait 10 years before obtaining a Visa needed to visit him in the United States. “If they were illegal immigrants, I guess they could be on the VIP list of Democratic Party and busy doing voter fraud for them. LOL.”
Sure, “Lots Of Laughs” (LOL) but many Bernards Township residents were not amused.

Yet some supported him on his Facebook page. One congratulated Xu on his appointments but cautioned that injecting ”too much politics into civic functions” could be “looked upon as unprofessional, maybe even unlawful.”

Xu thanked the person for the post. “I intend to stay unprofessional if that’s what you think,” he wrote. “Since we don’t have much freedom of speech left, I value it more than ever.’’

So therein lies the lesson for all four public figures mentioned above: There is a difference between freedom of speech and exclusionary, hateful rhetoric, and you owe the public you have the honor and responsibility to represent a higher level of discourse that reflects the democracy you have been chosen to serve.


Bernardsville News

Paid for by the Harris & Mascia for Bernards Township Committee, P.O. Box 75, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920-0075.
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