Another elected representative shames her supporters

In St. Lawrence County, scores of people showed up at a recent county Legislature meeting and about 40 made comments after a Republican legislator from Massena, Rita Curran, put up a post on her Facebook page attacking Muslims.

Many of them wanted Curran to resign, but the board voted 10-5 against calling for her resignation. One Republican, John Burke of Norfolk, joined four Democrats in voting for resignation.

“It’s a forgiveness that’s not ours to give … none of us on the board, to the best of my knowledge, are Muslim,” Burke said, according to a story in North Country Now.

Burke went on to say that hate speech has affected his family, and he guessed had affected friends or relatives of everyone on the board.

In contrast with Burke’s big-heartedness, the Republican chairman of the county board, Joe Lightfoot, blamed the controversy on Democrats who had pointed out the post. It wasn’t Curran’s fault for characterizing Muslims unfairly and inaccurately, it was the fault of Democratic legislators who noticed, according to Lightfoot.

In Lightfoot’s world, bad things would never happen as long as no one mentioned them.

On April 25, Curran shared a meme from the Empire State Conservative Network Facebook page. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend clicking on the link. It provides more evidence, if more were needed, of how incredibly low the level of public dialogue is on social media. The meme shows an image of the Twin Towers burning on Sept. 11, along with the following text: “Every time a Muslim stand up in Congress and tells us they are going to change the Constitution, impeach our president, or vote for socialism, remember you swore you would never forget. They swore they would destroy us from within.”

A handful of people who were Muslims attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, just as a white man (Timothy McVeigh) attacked the U.S. on April 19, 1995. In recent years, a handful of Christian white men have carried out terrorist attacks on various places of worship, schools, a newspaper office and other places in the U.S. Should we adjust the meme to say, “Every time a white man stands up in Congress and tells us … blah-blah”? It does seem absurd, since Congress is made up mostly of white men.

The acts of individuals, good or bad, do not represent whatever groups they get lumped in with, whether by race or nationality or ethnicity or class or region or religion or anything else. We don’t judge white men by Ted Bundy. We don’t judge Christians by Fred Phelps. This sort of thing should be obvious to everybody and especially to an elected political representative.

So far, Curran hasn’t had anything to say for herself. I don’t think she should resign, either, unless she really comes to feel ashamed for what she did and resigns for that reason. But if she’s unrepentant, then it would be much better if she were rejected by voters — that’s what should happen in her case and in every case where those who are supposed to make voters proud shame them instead. Voters should show their displeasure at the ballot box.

Will Doolittle is projects editor of the Post-Star of Glens Falls.

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