Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Racist Posts From Public Figure Must Be Condemned
Lack of reaction to North RTM member's racist posts unacceptable
Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 12:30 am
I'm a firm believer in the right to free speech. Every citizen has the right to their opinion, even if it is offensive to the vast majority of others. Even if those opinions spread messages of intolerance and hatred. That is a bedrock principle of this great nation.
But with that right to express these often grotesque opinions comes the need to balance that at least somewhat with accountability.
And when you are someone who holds an elected post in local, state or national government, you have an even larger responsibility. What you do and how you act reflects upon the people you serve, the constituents who vote both for and against you and the community where you govern.
And for that reason, the people of North Attleboro deserve to know and have called to their attention the fact that one of their RTM members has featured racist posts on his Facebook page.
Paul Couturier has been a member of RTM for close to seven years. He is an active member, well known in town circles. He is an advocate for veterans and other groups. He is on the town's cable advisory committee. And - like me - he likes to share his opinions on a wide variety of issues.
But on his Facebook page he has also posted the two following items, which cross the bounds of free speech and enter the area of racial bigotry.
One post has a picture of a shark rising from the water, jaws open as if to eat something. The caption on the picture says: "Throw Me A Muslim."
The other post has a picture of a large black male gorilla reclining casually on the ground against a wall. His prominent testicles are quite visible. The caption on that photo says: "A rare glimpse of the first lady on vacation."
You can call those posts political, if you want. You can call them a product of free speech. You can even call them constitutionally protected. But no matter what you call them, you also have to call them racist and hold those posting them accountable.
An elected public figure advocating the feeding of people to sharks based upon nothing but their religion is reprehensible. Even if said in a misguided attempt to be humorous, it is irresponsible, and dangerous.
Comparing the African-American first lady of the United States to a male gorilla is a clear and undeniable continuation of longstanding racial stereotypes that go back generations. It is an embarrassingly awful message for RTM member Couturier to spread throughout his community and beyond.
RTM member Couturier did not do this in secret. There are other members of North Attleboro's town government who are Facebook friends with him and have likely seen these posts. Yet, there has been no public outcry, no criticism. There has been no one standing up and calling attention to these posts. Why?
A few months back, RTM Coordinating Committee Chairman Bob Nerz insulted Attleboro citizens and mocked the immigrants of that city. Now another RTM member publicly advances views that racially insult some of their constituents. Where is the outrage from those who lead North Attleboro? Shouldn't this type of behavior be repudiated?
I am privileged to know many people in North Attleboro. Some are active in local government, and most are not. They are good, honest, hard-working folks who often have strong opinions and love their community.
Sometimes, they share my opinions on different issues. Many times, they do not. They are unafraid to voice those opinions in strong, coherent terms. I admire and respect them for that ability and their willingness to speak up and out, regardless of whether or not I agree.
North Attleboro is not a racist community. North Attleboro's government is not a racist government. People who live there should know that.
But at the same time, neither the people nor the government and its officials should tolerate racism within its ranks. Those attitudes should never be accepted from those the town elects. They have no place in North Attleboro, or anywhere else.
I'm not asking anyone to apologize for anything. But I am asking the good people of North Attleboro to hold accountable those who practice racism and hatred within their government and elsewhere.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.